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New climate-change legislation supported by Rapid City activists

Congressional legislation to address climate change was introduced this week with support from Rapid Citians who are among citizen activists lobbying for the bill's passage.

The bill is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. It was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House by three Democrats and two Republicans from Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The legislation seeks to make cleaner fuels more economically competitive by imposing fees on fossil fuels, while protecting American consumers from rising energy prices by paying them dividends from the fees. The bill seeks to lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 percent in 10 years.

The plan is backed by Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nonprofit with hundreds of local chapters around the world. For the past several years, Mary Deibert, Karla Deuter and Alan Anderson, all of Rapid City, have been among thousands of activists associated with the organization who have traveled annually to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the introduction and passage of the legislation. 

The trio recently returned from their most recent lobbying trip and said the improving reception they've been receiving from members of Congress and congressional staffers was especially noticeable this year.

“This was the first time I came away with a little bit of hope,” Anderson said.

Deibert said when she began making the lobbying trips in 2012, the reception was cold. She remembers one congressional staffer who didn’t bother to take notes during a meeting.

“We were still at that time arguing whether climate change was real,” Deibert said. “That was what we spent a lot of our meetings on.

“Now, we don’t even have that conversation.”

Deibert said the conversations now focus on the legislation supported by Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

The plan would impose a fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon on fuels at their first point of sale. The fee would then rise by $10 per metric ton, per year.

The fee revenue would be distributed in equal shares to every American adult with a Social Security or individual taxpayer identification number, with half-shares allocated to the first two minors in each household. In the first year, according to Citizens' Climate Lobby, the payout would be about $16-$24 per month, per adult. 

Imported goods from countries that lack a similar carbon policy would be subjected to a "border carbon adjustment" — basically a tariff — to discourage U.S. companies from moving production to those countries. 

Additional regulations on covered carbon dioxide emissions would be prohibited, as long as emission targets are met. If emission targets are not met after 10 years, Environmental Protection Agency regulatory authority over the emissions would be restored.

Congressional adoption of the plan is what Deibert, Deuter, Anderson and other volunteer activists lobby for when they descend on Washington each year. Although President Donald Trump recently rejected findings from the annual National Climate Assessment that were released Friday, the Rapid Citians said members of Congress have been increasingly willing to discuss climate change and climate-change legislation.

Changing attitudes in Congress were reflected as early as 2014 in a comment by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who said in a Fox News interview that climate change is occurring. He also said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to that, including human activity. The question is, what are we going to do about it and at what cost?”

Thune now brings that perspective to the highest levels of the Senate Republican caucus with his promotion earlier this month to majority whip, which ranks behind only the majority leader among the leadership group elected by senators.

Deuter said Citizens’ Climate Lobby has positive working relationships with the offices of Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. She hopes to strike up a similar relationship with Rep.-elect Dusty Johnson, R-S.D. Prior to the Nov. 6 election, Johnson was endorsed by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a national group that was formed to build support among Republicans for clean-energy policies.

The Black Hills chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby has about 100 members. Deibert, a retired teacher, is a state coordinator. Deuter, a retired medical technologist, and Anderson, a retired engineer, are group leaders along with Barb Cromwell.

Volunteers for Citizens’ Climate Lobby are encouraged to build relationships with members of Congress by being nonpartisan and focusing on respectful communication. As Anderson said, “We don’t yell at them.”

Deuter said that approach has paid off.

“We always get a meeting,” she said. “And it’s a back and forth. It’s a dialogue.”

Deibert, Deuter and Anderson said they realize that the politics of climate change are difficult for members of Congress, whose constituents are spread along a spectrum from climate-change deniers to environmentalists. The partner organization of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, known as Citizens’ Climate Education, is working to inform public opinion about climate change.

Deibert said she wishes the newly introduced legislation would have been adopted years ago, but her anxiety about climate change has been soothed by the progress she thinks Citizens’ Climate Lobby is making.

“What keeps me sane is this group,” Deibert said.

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Rapid City gets $5,000 from Domino's Pizza to repair potholes

No one knows the potholes of a city like a pizza delivery guy or gal.

"There's one right out here in front of our shop on East North Street. In fact, the whole thing is a pothole," said David Shearer, director of operations of the Domino's franchises in Rapid City. "You get a pizza, you get wings, you get bread sticks, and it all goes into one bag, and typically those bars are bouncing in there when you hit a big pothole."

But now, it'll be pizza deliverers to the rescue in helping Rapid City fix its potholes.

On Wednesday, Domino's announced it was giving a $5,000 grant to the city to go toward eliminating potholes. The pizza company said Rapid City received an "overwhelming number of nominations" from residents as part of its "Paving for Pizza" grant program, which seeks to donate money for streets to one city in every state in the country. 

The inauspicious nomination could seem strange coming from a pizza delivery company, but Domino's says they want level streets, too. Their concern? Sloppy pizzas sloshing around in delivery boxes.

"I don't want to beat up on Rapid, but, yeah, there's some potholes and our customers notice," Shearer said.

Of all the cities in South Dakota — including Sioux Falls with over twice the population and Domino's locations — Rapid City received more nominations or "votes" for Domino's to donate money to help fix the streets of Rapid City.

And the city isn't complaining.  

"We're pleased that Domino's has selected Rapid City as a Paving for Pizza community," said Darrell Shoemaker, spokesperson for the city. "The bottom line is the community will receive $5,000 for pothole repair and after doing some number crunching, we expect to hit the ground running and fill approximately 400 potholes."

The city says a conservative estimate of 5,000 potholes per year are filled by city crews, who work from a $180,000 asphalt maintenance budget, with only part of the funds spent on potholes and the rest going to fill-ins on water mains and other construction. Shoemaker estimates the city receives more than 1,000 calls a year to its Pothole Hotline, which is 394-4152.

"It's an issue like any city," Shoemaker said. "Especially with our freeze-and-thaw cycles and the precipitation we get around here, plus the wear and tear from heavy traffic. We do our best to aggressively respond to concerns."

Domino's says residents began voting on the website in June. Over 137,000 nominations from over 15,000 cities in all 50 states were received. 

Shearer hopes the first pothole they fix in Rapid City is right outside Domino's.

"That'd hit a little closer to home certainly," Shearer said.

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Rosebud man gets 11 years in prison for killing brother, brass knuckle assault

A Rosebud man was sentenced Nov. 26 to 11 years in federal prison for stabbing and killing his brother with a knife and beating another man with brass knuckles, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota. 

Dallas Burning Breast, 26, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange to eight years for a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from the stabbing death. For the beating incident, he was sentenced to three years for an assault that resulted in a serious injury and aiding and abetting that assault. 

Burning Breast pleaded guilty to the three charges on Sept. 5, and in exchange, prosecution dropped two charges of assault with a deadly weapon. 

The convictions stem from two separate incidents. On March 5, Burning Breast was arguing and fighting with his brother, Corey Burning Breast, and stabbed him in the leg with a large kitchen knife, according to a statement of facts signed by Burning Breast.

The 4- to 5-inch-deep knife wound cut the brother's femoral artery and lead to significant bleeding. He was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital. 

On July 2, 2017, Burning Breast and Ervin Burning Breast, Jr., hit a man from behind, knocking him to the ground, according to the statement of facts. The pair then beat the man with brass knuckles. 

The victim was treated in Sioux Falls for cuts on his face and head and a fracture in bone around one of his eyes. 

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Hermosa man accused of $500K wire fraud

A Hermosa man is charged with federal wire fraud after allegedly running an investment scheme that made him $75,500 but caused a client to lose $509,337.06.

David Ward Astin, 36, was arrested Oct. 22 in Houston, Texas, and transported to South Dakota. He is detained at the Pennington County Jail. 

Court documents say the scheme began in 2012 when Astin entered into an agreement to manage foreign currency exchange accounts — aka “forex” accounts — belonging to Dr. David Blickensderfer. Forex trading involves trading currencies of different countries against each other, court documents say.

“As part of the scheme and artifice,” says the indictment in the case, “Astin began providing false information to Blickensderfer about the balances in Blickensderfer’s forex accounts to make Blickensderfer believe his forex accounts were making significant gains when in reality the accounts were losing substantial amounts of money.”

Astin allegedly sent an email and text messages to Blickensderfer that included false representations of ending balances for the forex accounts. Astin also allegedly provided the doctor with falsified account statements that showed higher account balances than actually existed in the accounts. Astin allegedly used the altered statements to hide losses resulting from his trading.

The indictment says Astin caused the doctor to make 19 financial transactions totaling $806,997.86 to fund the forex accounts. Blickensderfer also made direct and indirect payments totaling $75,500 to Astin as compensation for Astin’s services, the indictment says, while Astin’s trading allegedly lost $433,877.06.

Astin was indicted more than two years ago on May 24, 2016. A warrant for his arrest was issued the next day.

At the time, a federal prosecutor requested the case be sealed from public view, and a judge granted the request. The motion to seal the case said, "the Defendant has left the United States in order to avoid prosecution and is most likely monitoring the investigation in order to avoid law enforcement."

The case was unsealed on Oct. 23 of this year, the day after Astin’s arrest in Houston.

Astin’s attorney, Paul Andrews, declined to comment. Attempts to reach Blickensderfer were unsuccessful.

Astin had his initial court appearance Monday at the federal courthouse in Rapid City and pleaded not guilty. U.S. Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann ordered Astin to remain detained, citing a serious risk that he would not appear for future court proceedings.