PIERRE – Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to ease the permitting hurdles for large industrial projects is heading to its final approval.
After hearing from counties and residents for more than an hour on Wednesday morning, the House State Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 157 in a 10-3 vote to change the county permitting process for projects such as wind energy, large industrial developments and concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs.
The bill will now head to the House floor for a vote, and if passed, it will go to Noem’s desk for consideration.
The bill will lower the vote threshold to a simple majority of members present to approve a conditional use permit and overhaul the permit appeal process. It also requires projects with a special permitted use to be approved without a public hearing if all criteria are met.
The permitting process can be “hijacked by a vocal few” who oppose the projects and the uncertainty is unfair to everyone involved, Noem told the committee. Her bill provides a fair process and protects local control by putting the decision into the hands of the majority instead of “the vocal few,” she said.
Several producers described to the committee that the permitting process for their projects to expand their operations has landed in the court system, where it has been stuck for several years by people or groups filing lawsuits over the permits. Agricultural groups, ethanol producers, wind energy companies and business organizations also supported the bill on Wednesday.
Several committee members said they were concerned that the bill changes the requirement from a supermajority of a county commission to approve a conditional use permit to a simple majority of commissioners present at the meeting.
Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, pointed out that if three of the five members are present and one abstained in the vote, it will lead to a minority of members approving a permit. Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, said that argument throws county commissioners “under the bus” by saying that legislators don’t trust them to show up for their meetings. Haugaard objected to that, saying the vote should be a majority of the commission.
The South Dakota Association of County Commissioners supports the bill, but the Yankton County Commission approved a resolution opposing it on Tuesday. Several townships in Yankton County have been considering seceding from the county to join a neighboring county that’s more friendly toward CAFOs.
Yankton County Commissioner Dan Klimish told the committee that the bill is “an attack on local control.” It takes away a county’s ability to have a supermajority vote on a permit and Yankton County will have to make “significant” changes to its zoning ordinance if it passes, he said.
The bill diminishes government transparency and the public’s right to be heard at a public hearing, and impacts the county’s ability to protect the safety, health and welfare of its residents, according to the Yankton County Commission’s resolution of opposition. A local voting requirement should be determined by local voters, not by the state government, the resolution states. It also argues that the state isn’t properly equipped or staffed to handle the increase in CAFOs that will result from the bill, which will lead to environment damage.
“SB 157 is a clear attempt to take away local control and undermine the ability of local elected officials and citizens to make local decisions that are best for their communities,” the resolution states.
Minnehaha County has previously testified that it already uses the permitting process proposed in the bill is proposing, but that isn’t a good example for rural counties to follow in South Dakota, said Rebecca Turk of Dakota Rural Action.
“It’s important because Clay County is not Day County. The southern half of Lincoln County is different from the northern half of Lincoln County,” she said.
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