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MERCER: Dakota Rural Action renews its relevance

Bob Mercer, Capitol Correspondent  PIERRE — In the past week, Dakota Rural Action lost its fight against new labeling regulations for raw milk, but was part of the winning side working to block Powertech’s uranium-mining project.

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Yet to be determined is how Dakota Rural Action will fare in two other battles. There is DRA’s city-by-city campaign to legalize the raising of chickens in people’s yards. And there is the organization’s battle to stop TransCanada’s next crude-oil pipeline across western and south-central South Dakota.

There are two themes to the activities.

One is allowing people to choose their food and raise it locally if they wish, as in the raw milk and the chickens.

The other is stopping big energy projects that can pose threats to natural resources, such as groundwater with TransCanada and Powertech.

Listening to many hours of testimony on raw milk, a person could wonder why Dakota Rural Action would be opposed to food safety. The organization’s position, however, is defense of the little guy.

The argument is that small dairies are threatened by labels warning raw milk can make you sick and labels showing the date of production and the name of the dairy. The state Department of Health supports the state Department of Agriculture on the new labeling rules.

As for letting people raise chickens in urban areas, a hen isn’t the same as a tomato. Vegetables and fruit don’t cluck and crow, but they do attract animals. Chickens will attract other types of animals that, by nature, want to eat them and their eggs.

And there is South Dakota’s alpha predator.

Who knows whether chickens would attract immature mountain lions that make their way down from the Black Hills into backyards and neighborhoods.

DRA began in 1987 amid that decade’s farm crisis. Based in Brookings, DRA today has chapters in five eastern counties, a Black Hills chapter and a west group.

Dakota Rural Action’s opposition to the TransCanada oil pipeline is part of a national clean-energy movement.

President Barack Obama ultimately will decide whether the pipeline gets the necessary permit to pierce the U.S-Canada border to enter our country.

Without that permit, the pipeline can’t carry crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, all the way to refineries in southern states and then to other pipelines and to the ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

The inclination of the Obama administration appears to be to delay the decision, making the pipeline project more expensive each day for TransCanada.

In opposing Powertech’s uranium project, Dakota Rural Action is part of a loose coalition of people and groups interested in protecting South Dakota’s environment.

Many people fear the concept of pumping extra-oxygenated water into uranium ore bodies and then pumping the solution back to the surface where dissolved uranium is removed.

Two state boards suspended Powertech permit hearings and instead await decisions by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before proceeding again.

This is a new approach by state environmental boards. Dakota Rural Action meanwhile shows a renewed presence as well.