Saturday, March 24, 2018

Pay: Gilt Edge mining disaster falls at SDGOP's feet

In the pre-cellphone days Brohm and this former Twin City Fruit marketing associate shared a radio telephone party line where managers plotting an environmental disaster at the Gilt Edge site unwittingly leaked the news to anyone listening.

Brohm was an Australian company recruited by a Republican governor who gutted environmental protection in South Dakota. Photo is of acid mine drainage on Minnesota Ridge in the northern Black Hills.

With uncanny accuracy the late Gary Heckenlaible predicted the failure of the Gilt Edge Mine south of Deadwood now a Superfund site.

In 2016 Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton toured the Janklow/Brohm mining disaster in the Black Hills calling it "a textbook example of how not to do it."

The Board of Minerals and Environment is an arm of the South Dakota Republican Party that ceded regulatory authority to the US Environmental Protection Agency for uranium mining after the legislature realized there is no competent oversight from state agencies.

Acknowledging there will always be acid mine drainage the board met in Pierre in May of last year to announce its plans to continue the war on the Black Hills Gilt Edge Superfund site as EPA becomes a tool of the extraction industry.

Bob Mercer sat through the meeting so we didn't have to then filed three stories. The following is an excerpt from one.
The problem is acid mine drainage that occurs when sulfide-bearing rocks are exposed to oxygen. The acid drainage led Brohm mining company to walk away from Gilt Edge in 1999, in the process forfeiting its state bond of about $6 million. South Dakota becomes completely responsible for the cost of managing the Gilt Edge site after EPA completes the cleanup. [Mercer 1]
Under the General Mining Act of 1872 Canadian miners have carte blanche to rape the Black Hills, so they are.
I have a few choice words about this. At bottom, this is typical government corruption.

The Superfund program was designed to hold parties responsible for cleaning up the messes they made, so that taxpayers didn’t have to foot the entire bill. Essentially, it was designed to prevent de-privatization (or socialization) of the costs of cleanups. Cleanups are always complicated, far more difficult than doing things right the first time. They do require expertise, some of which is in private consulting firms. As long as these firms are beholden to the people’s interest (ie., the cleanup), and not one of the responsible parties, or a completely different entity with a desire to re-mine the site, then they are just fine.

That’s not what we have here. The State of South Dakota is the responsible party here, since Brohm Mining went bankrupt. It took over the mine site after it failed to properly regulate, which included a vastly deficient bond. Brohm Mining was a shell company designed specifically to take resources out of South Dakota and place the money in Canada, while keeping the US entity purposely poor. Everyone in the Gilt Edge Mine area knew the mine was in an area where acidic conditions prevailed. The State was specifically warned about this during permit hearings, yet the Board of Minerals and Environment handed them a permit anyway. When the Technical Information Project and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation put EPA on notice of a citizen suit to obtain National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permitting for the Brohm Mine, DENR and Brohm Mining opposed it together, always in lock step. The state’s dilly-dallying on that may have increased the problem. So, yes, sorry to say it, but the state ought to be paying the full cost of cleanup because of their failures to listen to citizens and properly regulate.

The state has been lucky to have had EPA footing most of the costs, but the state is chipping in money, too, though I think most of it has been coming out of the bond. That brings us to the fact that the current EPA is shorting the federal contributions to the Superfund program. It has started doing superficial cleanups to make it look like things are getting done. It’s actually sweeping things under the rug. When the Reagan administration did this, people went to jail.

So, South Dakota citizens are now part of the experiment in government corruption, and they are the guinea pigs. Agnico is a Canadian mining concern that wants to re-open the Gilt Edge Mine to mining. The acid rock is still there. The cadmium is still there.

It’s a complicated agreement, but here’s what I think is going to happen: Agnico is going to be paying into the Superfund sub-fund. I think that is going to be to displace the portion of funds that South Dakota is paying into Superfund clean up. Thus, Agnico is essentially paying a bribe to both EPA and the State of South Dakota. For this bribe, Agnico is expecting easy sailing in their effort to open another mine, that may include the portions of the expanded mining area on Forest Service land.

By the way, this agreement was negotiated without any public notice or public input. This mining site has been controversial since 1988, yet no one sought fit to let South Dakota citizens in on what was proposed until there is only a couple weeks to read and understand what is going on.

That’s how corruption works. EPA and the State of South Dakota should hold public meetings on this, and extend the comment period. There is a large backstory to this agreement that needs to be figured out. It has been in the works, in the background, for many months. When I called to try to ask some questions, I was told I had to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to get further information. That will take some time. Until we have all the information and the backstory, and an opportunity to comment based on a full understanding, this agreement should be shelved.

Many Superfund sites have citizen committees to oversee and keep tabs on the work. That should be the next step here, and until that happens, there should be no finalizing of this agreement. [blog comment, Donald Pay]

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