The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision on Friday, July 20, in the case Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Court’s decision supports the Tribe’s arguments and is an important step in protecting the Black Hills from uranium mining.

Download complete document: OST v NRC Court merits decision filed 7-20-18

The decision is one step in a long process surrounding the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine in Custer and Fall River Counties on the southwest edge of the Black Hills. The project would use the in situ leach method of uranium mining and includes over 10,000 acres. It would also have dire consequences for Lakota cultural resources, the area’s water, and our tourism and agriculture economy.

The case was filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in an attempt to protect cultural resources and reverse a license that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued to Powertech/Azarga, a foreign company. The license would allow the company to handle radioactive materials as part of mining and processing uranium.

EPA Hearing Valentine NE 4-27-17 1The Tribe said that the NRC staff’s issuance of a license before considering the potential impacts of mining on cultural resources was wrong. The Court of Appeals agreed, chiding the NRC for a pattern of issuing licenses before full consideration of projects’ potential impacts. The Court said that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that all potential impacts of a project be thoroughly considered before a license is issued. This decision could have far-reaching impacts, as it supports the NEPA process at a time when it is under attack by the Trump administration.

The Court stopped short of overturning the company’s license. Instead, it returned the case to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for further consideration in light of its discussion in the decision. This discussion makes it clear that the Commission should not have issued the license until identification and consideration of cultural resources was complete under the NEPA process. The Court also effectively forbade any ground disturbing activities until all laws are complied with.

The company would need to get at least ten permits and licenses to be able to start its mining project. After 12 years of activity in South Dakota, it has only received the NRC license, and that license is now in danger of being reversed.

Clean Water Alliance applauds the Court’s decision and the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s leadership on this issue. We now hope that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will follow the law, take away the company’s license, and complete consideration of all potential impacts from this project. We believe that full consideration will show that the proposed uranium mine’s impacts would be unacceptable and that the project should not go ahead.

Azarga’s Needs these Permits

Azarga needs at least 10 permits/licenses before it can legally mine uranium in the Dewey-Burdock area in the Southern Black Hills.

They are:

  • NRC License (they have it, but can’t use it until litigation is settled)
  • EPA ISL mining permit
  • EPA deep disposal well permit
  • State mining permit
  • State water permit for Inyan Kara formations
  • State water permit for Madison formation
  • State wastewater spraying permit
  • BLM permission
  • NPDES wastewater permit
  • Army Corps of Engineers permit (this is actually a question mark right now, due to changes in federal law)

There will probably also be county permits in Custer County. None needed in Fall River County, as they’ve given them a green light as of like 9 years ago.


SD grants MMR Temporary Water Permit

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota has approved a temporary water permit for an exploratory gold drilling project in the Black Hills despite opposition from Native American tribal officials and environmental groups.

The state Water Management Board’s approval clears the way for Mineral Mountain Resources to withdraw water from Rapid Creek through Dec. 31 to lubricate its drilling near Rochford, roughly 35 miles west of Rapid City. The Canadian company had been buying water from the city of Lead since its former water permit expired in May.


1872 Mining Act Reform

There is a new effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law, which is the law that permits companies to mine on federal public lands without paying any royalties. There’s more information on the and on the reform effort here —

Mining Reform Bill Introduced on Anniversary of Infamous 1872 Law
Grijalva-Lowenthal proposal would bring U.S. mining law into the 21st Century

Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) today introduced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2018, which would give Americans more choices in how our public lands agencies balance hardrock mining with other land uses. The bill would replace the 1872 General Mining Law, which still governs mining for gold, copper, uranium and other hardrock minerals on publicly owned lands managed by the federal government . Today’s introduction coincides with the 146th birthday of the 1872 law, and an aggressive mining industry push to further erode already flimsy environmental and community protections against the impacts of hardrock mining.

“Representative Grijalva and Lowenthal’s bill would bring 19th century mining law into the 21st century,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ Policy Director. “It would bring badly needed reforms that work for western communities, taxpayers, the environment, and responsible mining companies.”

Unlike all other land uses, the 1872 law in practice makes mining the highest and best use. If a mining company discovers valuable minerals on public domain lands, land managers interpret the law as to given them no choice but to permit mining, no matter if the land is better used for recreation, conservation, renewable energy, or even fossil fuel extraction.

Also unlike other extractive industries, under the 1872 law, mining companies pay no royalties. Whoever stakes a claim and discovers valuable minerals on public lands claims those riches — more than $300 billion and counting since 1872 — without giving taxpayers a dime for them.

The 1872 law also does not charge a fee for abandoned mine cleanup, the cost of which often falls to taxpayers. The EPA estimates the backlog of cleanup costs for these mines at $20-$54 billion — vastly more than the entire annual Superfund budget.

Grijalva & Lowenthal’s bill would update the mining law by addressing those issues and:
Allow land managers to balance other public land uses such as recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat conservation with hardrock mining.
Prohibit mines that would pollute water in perpetuity.

Provide a fair return to the U.S. Treasury on minerals taken from public lands.
Start a polluters pay dedicated fund for the $50 billion clean up bill for the hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that litter our public lands.
Protect National Monuments, National Parks, Wilderness Study Areas, Roadless Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other areas of critical environmental concern from irresponsible mining.

For all but existing producing claims, replace mining claims with a leasing system similar to that used for oil, gas and coal mining on public lands.

“The Grijalva-Lowenthal bill would give public land owners — all Americans — a choice when mining is proposed on their land,” said Pagel. “Under the 1872 law, we have no choice because mining is prioritized over every other land use. Reform must focus on protecting communities and the environment by balancing industrial scale mining with other land uses, such as conservation, recreation and tourism, drinking water supplies, and renewable energy development.”

The need for reform grows more pressing with each passing year. Some of the most abundant deposits remain harder-to-reach and more wasteful, posing a greater risk to local communities and the water they depend upon.

For More Information
Text of the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2018 – House Natural Resources Democrats
Title by title summary of HRLA of 2018 – House Natural Resources Democrats
Flowchart explaining how mining claims would be converted to leases – House Natural Resources Democrats
Text of the General Mining Law of 1872 – U.S. Code
1872 Mining Law 101 – Earthworks

Gold Mining Threats: Maps and more.


This is what the central Black Hills could look like, if a Canadian company has its way.

There are two exploration efforts underway by Mineral Mountain Resources.  One is on private land, and this is the part of the project that the State of South Dakota has given permission to go forward.

The State has given the company an exploration permit and a temporary water permit.  This project is now underway, with drilling rig entering the Rochford/Pe’ Sla area.

The second exploration effort is on US Forest Service lands.  These are public lands controlled by the federal government.  The Forest Service is going through a process that the company hopes will lead to permission to drill on public lands.  People are active in this process, making the points that the drilling would take place upstream from Rapid City (which uses the water that comes from the area) and would take place by Pe’ Sla, a critical Lakota historical and cultural site.  Land at Pe’ Sla was re-purchased by several tribal governments a few years ago.
The entire Black Hills were reserved by the Lakota (Sioux) under the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties.  The tribal governments and treaty councils are active on this issue.

Following is a list of documents and maps for more information:


This temporary permit is issued (by the State of South Dakota DENR) with the following qualifications:

Mineral Mountain Resources (SD) Inc. shall notify the Chief Engineer prior to the commencement of pumping from Rapid Creek and the approximate length of time the diversion will be taking place. The amount of water diverted from Rapid Creek shall be metered, the amount recorded and the amount reported monthly to the Chief Engineer. Notification and reporting may be submitted electronically at

Read more… Temporary Water Permit from the state for 1/2/18 to 5/1/18

These document are NFS Letter for categorical exclusion, MMR’s Plan of Operation and the 1972 Gold potential report:
  • The Forest Service’s letter saying they plan to issue a categorical exclusion, which would let the drilling on public lands go forward without an Environmental Impact Statement.  FS Letter re Categorical Exclusion 8-14-17


Maps of potential drill sites from Forest Service — these are sites on public lands, not the sites that the company is trying to drill on now 

  •  Topographic map of Forest Service sites


  • Topographic map showing potential drill sites on public lands.Topo map of MMR Activities from FS 1-18.jpg


  • MMR’s claims (area marked in yellow)



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Trojan SD

GHOST TOWNS: Trojan went from mining boom town to artist community and back to a mine

Kelsey Sinclair Journal correspondent Jan 14, 2018

Getting to Trojan today would be difficult — after all, it’s just a hole in the ground, swallowed up by the Wharf Mine.

The only evidence that the town existed at all is some foundations scattered in the nearby woods and the memories of former residents.

In the early 1850s while the California Gold Rush was in full swing, few non-Native Americans had set foot in the Black Hills.

There were whispers and rumors, but no one knew of the considerable quantities of gold the Hills contained. That all changed with Custer’s 1874 expedition to the Black Hills, when his party found gold. Word spread across the nation and prospectors flocked here, hungry for their share.

Near what is present-day Lead, prospectors struck it rich on Bald Mountain in early 1877 and mining claims were quickly made. The town of Trojan and nearby Terry were founded by miners from these claims. Trojan’s prosperity grew, and the population soon followed.

By 1900, the Trojan Mining Company was at work to consolidate the many small mining claims into their company, and by 1911 they had largely succeeded.

As the mines were consolidated, many miners left for Deadwood or Homestake and the population fell. Bald Mountain Mining Company bought out the Trojan Mining Company. The consolidated mines were worked for a couple of decades until they ran dry. By 1959, all mining operations had shut down after millions of dollars of gold and silver had been extracted throughout its history.

Matt Klein of Deadwood grew up in Trojan during its later history as a haven for artists. His parents moved there for the cheap housing and bought their house for only $7000. They were truly living in history, and his father, Greg Klein, even found old telegraphs and letters from the early 1900s detailing mining operations in their attic.

The telegraphs sometimes talked in code. Afterall, they were transporting precious metals so they couldn’t be too cautious.

One telegraph from Dec. 18, 1914 read “bar about nipper nuzzle nimbus nutty faithless,” meaning the bar is about $12,500.

Others expressed worry about how World War I would affect their supply. “Phillips has wired manufacturer regarding effect war will have on supply, delivery and price of cyanide. Will wire you reply. Five months supply assured,” read an undated telegraph to Chicago.

From hole in the sky to hole in the ground

Then in the 1970s, an unlikely group breathed life back into the town: hippies and free-thinkers looking for cheap housing and mountaintop living. Their creative community earned the nickname “hole in the sky.”

A lively community of artists formed with poets, singers, woodcarvers and painters among their ranks. A newspaper article from the late 1970s titled “Small City of Trojan Has Talented Group of Citizens” by Lois Miller described the community.

“Maybe it is the heady exhilarating mountain air or the intoxicating scenery that is partly responsible for so much unusual talent in the little mining community of Trojan. There are more talented persons among the Trojans than you would find in most places several times its population of 153 persons,” Miller wrote.

There was never a dull moment in town and parties were common. A group of Trojans created the tongue-in-cheek “Trojan Country Club” out of one of their homes, where they would host parties and get-togethers. During the winter, it would be common to get vast amounts of snow, so they’d take to the slopes. Usually, they’d be snowed in for at least one week in the year. The warm weather of the summer brought outdoor parties, hiking, volleyball, and playing in the large

“People would come from all over to four-wheel in the sand dunes. We’d jump in and be waist deep in sand,” remembers Klein.

The community had a contentedness that Klein remembers as one of his favorite aspects of childhood in Trojan.

“All of us had an endearing fondness for it. It’s hard to emulate a place like that. You felt like you’re connected to the community,” he said.

But the good times couldn’t last forever. Near the turn of the century, Wharf Resources was planning to buy out everyone and expand their mining operations into the ground under their homes.

“We knew the writing on the wall and that Wharf would buy everyone out,” explained Klein. Wharf purchased the property and auctioned off remaining structures. One of the last structures, the Trojan schoolhouse, was finally demolished in 2010. While the loss of his hometown is like an “itch (he) can never scratch,” he is glad that Wharf helped the community, which wouldn’t have happened had they not expanded.

“Not only is my intention to ensure the memory and history of Trojan is never forgotten, but also to convey that the Lead-Deadwood community has prospered in so many ways from the Trojan expansion,” he said, giving examples of Wharf helping local nonprofits.

“Without their Trojan expansion, none of it would have possible,” Klein explained.