South Dakota Lawmakers Waste No Time, Quickly OK Governor’s Pipeline-Protest Bills

KELO Pipeline

No one at the South Dakota Capitol looked happier Thursday than Bob Wilcox.

The executive director for the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners watched as state lawmakers approved a package providing more financial protection to state and local governments.

The legislation is Governor Kristi Noem’s solution to potentially millions of dollars in higher costs for more law enforcement and other needs if the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proceeds.

SB 189 financially penalizes people or groups for “riot boosting.” SB 190 creates a fund to reimburse state government, counties and municipalities for extraordinary expenses.

Noem, who took office January 5, kept the measures under wraps until Monday, the 33rd day of the Legislature’s 40-day session. The pace was fast:

— The Senate agreed Monday to suspend its rules and introduce the Republican governor’s two bills.

— The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations held a single hearing Wednesday.

— On Thursday, lawmakers passed both in a span of a few hours, largely along Republican-Democratic lines in each chamber.

The riot-boosting penalties rolled through the Senate 30-5 and the House 53-13.

The governments-assistance fund followed by bigger margins of 31-3 in the Senate and 58-8 in the House.

Their swift passage pleased Wilcox. The 66 counties in South Dakota rely largely on property taxes for their budgets and many of their sheriff departments are understaffed. 

“Both these bills will certainly help us meet the financial commitments that could arise that we could be responsible for,” he said. 

TransCanada has waited a decade to start constructing Keystone XL. It would carry crude oil from tar-sand fields in Alberta to a connection at Steele City, Nebraska, where it would link to existing pipelines.

TransCanada applied in 2009 for a state permit on the South Dakota portion and received it in 2010.

The pipeline would enter from Montana at South Dakota’s northwest corner, make its way across 315 miles through nine counties — Harding, Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp — and leave at northcentral Nebraska.

Seven pump stations are proposed in South Dakota counties: two in Harding, two in Tripp and one apiece in Meade, Haakon and Jones.

TransCanada’s latest quarterly report to the state Public Utilities Commission says construction preparations have stopped because of a federal court injunction. Representative Jon Hansen, a Dell Rapids Republican, said Thursday the injunction could be lifted later this month.

Noem issued a statement after her bills cleared both chambers:

“These bills are pro-economic development, pro-free speech, and take a proactive approach to spreading the risk and costs associated with building a pipeline. I applaud the legislature for their thoughtful review and decisive leadership. I believe this approach will be part of the next generation of major energy infrastructure development.”

Some tribal members and some of their governments’ officials criticized the governor in recent days for failing to consult with tribes in South Dakota.

Various legislators — all Democrats but one — again raised the arguments Thursday.

Representative Sean Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat and a Rosebud Sioux Tribe member, noted that tribal officials had been at the Capitol a week ago for the annual Tribal Relations Day and the governor promised to display their governments’ flags in the rotunda but said nothing to them about the legislation.

“But somewhere when I was looking at all this stuff I saw that lawmakers were involved, that some of us had known about this for some time. We were just having fun, the tribes were here, we’re going to hang the flags up, all this wonderful stuff that’s gonna happen, inclusiveness, all the people are at the table. When I heard lawmakers were part of this discussion I was curious, which one of you, if any, were brought to the table?” Bordeaux asked.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck spoke first about the riot-boosting bill. “It is not a referendum on any particular pipeline. Whether a pipeline comes or goes, does or doesn’t happen in South Dakota, happens without regard to this bill,” Schoenbeck said.

Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, pointed out what he said were severe flaws in the riot-boosting framework

“This gives a cause of action, a legal basis to sue, to third parties. Now who’s the third party? The third party is TransCanada,” Kennedy said.

Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission, a Rosebud Sioux member, said its sweep was too broad in reaching for people at the margins.

“You don’t necessarily have to be there, but you’re supporting the efforts, you’ve sent money, you’ve maybe provided gas money, you’ve sent a load of wood, to a peaceful protest and it turns into a riot, through no fault of your own. That could potentially put you at risk,” Heinert said.

Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, said TransCanada’s route avoids the four reservations — Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge and Rosebud — in western South Dakota.

It does come close at Cheyenne River’s southwest corner.

“I understand the concerns of tribal leaders, but as it relates to the actual course that will be taken by the TransCanada pipeline, their tribal plans will not be affected,” Greenfield said.

Representative Peri Pourier, a Pine Ridge Democrat and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, participated in the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline’s construction in North Dakota.

The standoff from April 2016 through 2017 cost millions of dollars. The National Guard and local law enforcement forced its shutdown.

Pourier said the violence there was why South Dakota tribes should have been at the table with Governor Noem this time on the Keystone XL.

“The course of escalation didn’t happen on just one side. It was both. There’s a piece, and all I’m saying, there’s a piece of the problem that’s missing from this discussion,” Pourier said.

Tribes weren’t mentioned among the 10 points Noem issued in a statement Wednesday after the committee hearing.

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