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The 2014 South Dakota Legislative Session

Savoring Victories and Licking Wounds

sd capitalThanks to all Sierra Club members and allies who made your voices heard during the 2014 South Dakota Legislative session. Now that lawmakers have gone home and spring is on the horizon, we can begin to breathe again. We should celebrate baby steps toward a sustainable future, and thank each other and our progressive friends in the Legislature for killing the nuttiest bills and the worst assaults on fairness, sustainability, rationality, and our water, land and air. And despite the frequent disappointments, we must not yield to cynicism and defeat. Rather we must turn frustration into commitment and hard work, beginning now. We must do all we can to elect people who will represent conservation views in the 2015 session, educate ourselves and them about issues that matter, and ready ourselves to resume the fight.

2014 was the first legislative session at which the South Dakota Sierra Club was represented by a professional lobbyist, Canton attorney Larry Nelson. But in spite of all our efforts, our successes were far from stellar. We did help defeat several bad bills, some of them perennial attacks on reason and the public welfare, as well as on our natural environment, water, wildlife and land. Long-time observers and activists recognize that while the 2014 Legislature was perhaps more rational and progressive than predecessors on a few social fronts, environmentally we made few gains, instead devoting most of our energy to beating back tiresome assaults on conservation of natural resources.

First, our Achievements:

HB 1013, a non-controversial bill to authorize financing and construction of a visitors’ center and displays at Good Earth/Blood Run State Park, passed both houses to become law.

We helped defeat the perennial bill to restrict conservation easements (HB 1083). After passing the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, it was killed on the House floor.

The Legislature did kill most of Rep. Betty Olson’s many anti-environmental bills, including HB 1102, to permit spotlight shooting of coyotes.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee killed HB 1116, which would have granted grazing lease holders exclusive hunting rights on public lands.

SB 162, written by the gold mining lobbyist to repeal the severance tax on gold, even though gold now sells for more than three times the price when the modest tax was imposed in 1984, was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

SB 76, to allow any person, with or without a hunting license, to shoot a mountain lion anytime and anywhere if they think the mountain lion poses a threat to themselves or their livestock or pets, was killed by one vote in the House.

But our Victories are Overshadowed by our Losses, and many of those were at the hands of the House Ag and Natural Resources Committee, the primary killing field for environmental bills. Agricultural interests are well represented on the committee, but natural resource conservation is not a priority. We desperately need a legislator on that committee who will engage the debate and lead this committee in a new direction.

Good environmental bills killed by the House Ag and Natural Resources Committee:

HB 1006, to assess and tax agricultural land based on its actual use, thus removing the tax incentive to plow up grassland to plant beans or corn.

HB 1160, to require Department of Environment and Natural Resources inspections within 48 hours of a reported environmental violation.

HB 1222, to require denial of water discharge permit applications containing fraudulent information.

HB 1254, Dakota Rural Action’s Energy Fairness bill, a very modest proposal to require electrical utilities to buy surplus power generated by independent producers of renewable electricity at seventy percent of the utility’s retail energy rate.

HB 1193, to protect Black Hills ground water from uranium mining, our top priority bill. It has become clear that we cannot depend on the Legislature to protect our water and land, so perhaps it is time to take our message directly to the people, as we have done several times in recent decades. The Sierra Club has had initial discussions with coalition partners about an Initiative Petition to take protection of water resources from in situ uranium mining to a statewide vote.

Again, sincere thanks to all who engaged legislators on environmental and conservation bills. The SD Sierra Executive Committee will be working before the 2015 session to refine and escalate our involvement in the lobbying process. We hope all our members will commit themselves to working even harder and being more effective in the coming year.

Jerry Wilson, Political Action Chair