RAPID CITY, S.D. — Concern over whether a South Dakota site has historic, cultural and religious significance to Native Americans has further stalled a company’s plan to mine for uranium.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license in 2014 to Powertech, which has been pursuing a project to drill for uranium near Edgemont for 13 years.

But the Oglala Sioux Tribe argues that the license was improperly approved without an adequate survey of tribal cultural resources as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the Rapid City Journal reported .

Lakota Sioux Native Americans controlled the area before the U.S. government seized it in the late 1800s.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a letter last week proposing a cultural resource survey process and requesting a company response by March 30. The letter suggests hiring a contractor, meeting with tribal leaders, interviewing tribal elders and conducting a field survey. It says Powertech should consider reimbursing tribal members for their participation and pay the contractor an estimated $250,000.

A federal appeals court is also considering the tribe’s request for a review of the commission’s actions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments Tuesday.

Attorney Jeffrey Parsons represents the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He argued that since the license has already been issued, Powertech could build its mine and destroy sacred tribal sites before they’re even identified.

“The tribe is essentially being pushed to the edge of this cliff,” Parsons said.

Attorney Christopher Pugsley, who represents Powertech, argued that the license doesn’t put the tribe in immediate jeopardy of losing cultural resources, since additional regulatory approvals are still needed.

The project still needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the state of South Dakota.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com