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WATCHDOG: Records law keeps uranium decision-making secret

I had an interesting exchange recently with uranium mining opponent Jim Petersen over what state workers at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) may or may not think about the Dewey-Burdock uranium mine proposal.

Petersen and some others have said that state workers have told them the department's recommendation for approval was "politics" to help foster business development in the state.

Petersen writes in an email: 

"Too bad the DENR hydrologist and engineers in attendance aren't at liberty to speak their own minds, being as they are under a virtual 'gag' order from the Attorney General's Office. In long conversations with several of them last year, before their 'sequester', more than one so much as admitted to me that politics, not science was driving the Powertech approval process ..."

That's hearsay, of course, and the DENR certainly isn't talking right now. 

But South Dakota's weak public records laws make it nearly impossible for us to look at Dewey-Burdock's genesis. Here, emails and other correspondence like memos don't have to be handed over to the public. We also don't have access to appointment logs, working papers or telephone logs.

In fact, if you want to feel your democracy-loving soul get crushed, just go read section 12 of the exemptions. That three-line clause effectively eradicates South Dakotans' right know about how state business is handled.

In other words, we can't get any documents that would enlighten us on the internal debate concerning Dewey-Burdock.

Former Gov. Mike Rounds has told us he only sat in on one DENR and Powertech meeting each on Dewey-Burdock. Current Gov. Dennis Daugaard hasn't talked to us at all about mining proposal because it's in the winding through the permit process. The DENR maintains that since it recommended approval for the mine, everything is copacetic. 

But we also know at least one former DENR employee spoke out against the limited way state regulators will be able to oversee the project. We wrote about all these puzzle pieces in September.

And there doesn't seem to be any combination of state and federal oversight yet in other states that gets bonding, oversight and spill reporting all completely right. We wrote about that in September, too. We even made a list of uranium mine problems and violations

We at The Journal are still following this, so if anyone with knowledge of Dewey-Burdock proposal's gestation, shoot me a message at the contact info below.

And for more of our uranium coverage, head over here.

Contact Joe O'Sullivan at 394-8414 or

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