BH Clean Water Alliance rejects EPA’s approval of Powertech mining permits

RAPID CITY — The Black Hills Clean Water Alliance issued a statement Wednesday, opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) issuance of Underground Injection Control and Safe Drinking Water Act aquifer exemption permits to Powertech (USA) Inc., Tuesday night.

“We oppose this late-night federal government action for two major reasons,” said Dr. Lilias Jarding, with the alliance. “With these permits the Environmental Protection Agency has said it’s okay to allow the toxic and radioactive contamination of groundwater aquifers — aquifers that are needed in our semi-arid region.”

Jarding said the second reason for the opposition is that the EPA’s review of the project is not “serious or complete.”

“Despite the time they’ve had to do a good job, the documents issued with the permits and the permit process appear rushed,” she said.

Powertech officials said the Dewey-Burdock in situ uranium mining project would extract an estimated one million pounds of uranium a year for eight years from an almost 11,000-acre piece of land that straddles Fall River and Custer counties.

Issuance of the permits was a major hurdle the company has had to overcome in its contentious, 12-year battle to gain permitting. Gaining the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval was the first major permitting obstacle and the company gained that OK in 2014.

Jarding listed fractured rock in the Dewey-Burdock area, where the company plans to mine, as an oversight to the EPA’s review process, as well as not testing the groundwater aquifer the company plans to pump its wastewater during mining. Jarding also accused the EPA of issuing the permits illegally without first consulting with local tribal governments.  

“The EPA is required by law to consult with tribal governments on a range of potential issues. The EPA cut off this process before consultation occurred,” she alleged. “Without thorough government-to-government tribal consultation, these permits are illegal.”

During a press conference via Zoom, Reno Red Cloud Sr., administrator of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Water Resources Department said, “We are aware of the EPA failure to comply with the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) — NHPA (National Historic Preservation Act) regulations for consultation. We will respond soon.”

In a prepared statement by the EPA, the permits were granted following a lengthy process.

“These permits reflect many years of evaluation and public comment on Powertech’s applications to recover uranium from ore-bearing formations at the Dewey-Burdock project location,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “EPA’s final actions are based on a thorough consideration of scientific, technical and regulatory aspects of the permits, and a review of all comments received, including those received during tribal consultation. This process has contributed to the development of requirements that will protect the region’s groundwater while enabling the safe recovery of valuable uranium resources.”

Jarding said the Clean Water Alliance would continue to monitor the permitting process and will circulate a petition to encourage the EPA to withdraw the permits it issued on Tuesday.

“The most important way to stop a project like this is through citizen involvement, and we encourage people to stay involved and stay aware of what is going on around this project,” she said.

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