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SD regulators seek more authority in uranium mine regulation

RAPID CITY (AP) -- South Dakota environmental officials have asked the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for more authority in regulating a proposed Powertech USA Inc. uranium mine near Edgemont.

The 2011 Legislature suspended the state's power to directly regulate in-situ uranium mines, which pump chemicals into groundwater to free uranium from the surrounding ore so it can be pumped to the surface. Powertech USA officials had argued that state permits for the mining method were an unnecessary duplication of federal regulation, and the Legislature deferred to the NRC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is not trying to reclaim in-situ permitting authority but to have a bigger role in setting reclamation bonds and doing inspections, spokesman Eric Holm told the media.

"We had, from the public, some interest in having state inspectors out there," he said. "I think, considering customer service, we wanted to be able to provide that."

The state still has authority to grant or deny water rights, a wastewater discharge plan and a large-scale mining permit needed by the Powertech project. But none of those offer direct authority over the in-situ mining process.

State lawmakers are considering legislation to restore the state permitting authority over in-situ uranium mining.

"The people around Edgemont have really been on me about this," said Sen. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, who filed three bills Friday to strengthen state regulations on uranium mining and restore the state permitting authority over the in-situ process. "And they're coming to Pierre to support these bills."

The Rapid City-based Clean Water Alliance is one supporter of more state regulation.

"In a state where we value keeping government close to the people, it makes sense for the state to regulate uranium mining, rather than some distant federal government official," said Lilias Jarding, an alliance organizer. "We support a larger role for the state, both in working with the NRC and in removing the limitations the Legislature passed a couple years ago."

Mark Hollenbeck, a rancher near Edgemont who also is project manager for Powertech's proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine, said the state already has substantial involvement and power in regulating the water rights, the discharge plan and the mine permit.

"The other side keeps saying the state doesn't regulate us, but I've got four different state permits that say otherwise," Hollenbeck said. "All they're talking about is another hurdle for us to jump."