Back in November, I wrote about Senate Bill 158, passed by our state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2011. SB158 suspended state oversight of in situ mining for uranium in South Dakota. Word our lawmakers tied their own hands and feet so as not to protect water quality in South Dakota struck me as kind of a man bites dog story.

It caught my attention: legislators erase legislation? Why?

As someone from South Boston might say, just strictly on the surface of it, SB158 was wicked stupid. Certainly from the vantage of the average South Dakotan, this was true. So, why did our elected officials do it? In cases like this, I’d always take my old Uncle Jack’s advice to follow the money. Unfortunately, South Dakota has no conflict of interest disclosure law for its elected politicians, and since those responsible for SB158 aren’t talking about it much, it remains a mystery.

Though wicked stupid, SB158 was also well-coordinated. Apparently, one lesson learned by Powertech in Colorado was to get the state government in your back pocket first -- then go public with your plans. It’s kind of worked so far. Still, the sheer oddity and malfeasance of it emitted enough stench that, soon enough, attention was being paid.

So now it’s back to classic government: Write new laws to fix old laws. But if they help conserve South Dakota’s natural resources, especially its water, I’m in.

New laws under consideration in this year’s legislative session are SB141, SB148, SB149 and SB150. Each applies to mining in South Dakota and its effect on our resources.

SB141 requires mine operators to provide adequate financial surety for any accidents they cause and for complete restoration of the land and water after the mine closes. SB148 restores state regulatory authority over in situ uranium mining. It’s a dul-se-do, but so what? It’s extremely necessary, and I applaud Sen. Jim Bradford and Reps. Troy Heinert and Kevin Killer for introducing it. SB149 tightens the reporting requirement for environmental violations from 30 days down to 24 hours. I say: "Good!”

Finally, SB150 warrants its own paragraph. If passed, this bill would require uranium mining companies to restore water to its previous baseline condition before they quit the area. SB150 also gives our state Department of Environment and Natural Resources the power to say yea or nay to mining in a particular area based on safety issues. SB150 requires as well that mining companies prove they can restore area water before they are allowed to mine.

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Good stuff, Maynard.

It strikes me that the people who have written and support this legislation are, in most cases, more liberal than the average South Dakotan. For that reason alone, some may be tempted to dismiss this legislation out of hand. But to paraphrase what Andy Dufresne tells the Warden in "The Shawshank Redemption," “Don’t be so obtuse.” If you care at all about the future of this state, you’ll get your tail on the phone to your local legislator and scream down the line how “ever much in love” you are with these four bills.

Of course, that’s just my opinion. I would only add this: Observing my conservative confreres of late, I’m sometimes at a loss. Just what is it, exactly, you’re trying to conserve? If not the land and water -- what? I wonder.

David Rooks’ website is www.astillmoonandstars.com. Write to him at davidrooks@gwtc.net. The opinions expressed by this freelance columnist are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rapid City Journal.

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