US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: Energy Bill Benefits South Dakotans

Rounds Logo 2016 MikeRounds official SenateEnergy Bill Benefits South Dakotans
By Senator Mike Rounds

The Senate recently passed a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill that will increase energy security and help keep energy costs low for South Dakota families. The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 is the first comprehensive energy bill to pass the Senate in nearly a decade. Included in the final package are a number of measures to improve the energy needs of South Dakotans, and other provisions that will directly benefit our state. I was pleased to vote for it on the Senate floor.

The bill includes my easement disclosure amendment that would make sure landowners are aware of all the options available to them when choosing to place their land in a conservation easement. Landowners in South Dakota deserve to know that perpetual conservation easements aren’t their only option. This legislation will increase awareness for shorter, termed easements that keep the landowner and the federal government on equal footing. I believe it will also result in greater conservation opportunities.

Specifically, this amendment contains language to establish a federal education program through the U.S. Department of the Interior to allow landowners to learn all of the federal conservation options available to them when choosing to restrict future use of their land through a federal easement. The agency will be required to make landowners aware of this program when approaching them about participating in a conservation program.

Another South Dakota provision included in the energy bill is the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act, introduced by Sen. John Thune and me earlier this Congress. This will facilitate a permanent land transfer of around 200 acres of Bureau of Land Management land to expand the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis. The permanent land transfer will guarantee that generations of South Dakota veterans will be able to rest peacefully in the Black Hills National Cemetery.

Reauthorization of the Brownfields program was included in the energy bill as well. I worked with a number of my colleagues on the Brownfields Utilization, Investment and Local Development Act, also referred to as the BUILD Act, which will provide funding for technical assistance grants to small communities and rural areas. This will be helpful to many South Dakota communities by expanding the scope of eligible grant recipients to include non-profit community groups. I was happy to see it included in the final energy bill.

The bill will enhance our ability to protect the electric grid from weather events and cybersecurity threats. Passing the Energy Policy Modernization Act is just one more example of the Senate’s commitment to strengthening economic security for the American people and of our dedication to an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy. We would have liked to see additional energy production measures included in the bill, but operating under a divided government requires any legislation passed to meet the approval of both Republicans and Democrats. We may not have gotten everything we wanted, but this bill is step in the right direction.