For four years, the Board of County Commissioners of Richland County (Duane Mitchell, Loren H. Young, and Shane Gorder) have been in the fight to protect us from the risks of radioactive waste material. The material is called TENORM, an acronym meaning "technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material." In our area, the very great bulk of this material is a solid waste produced in oil and gas development.
The agency that regulates disposal of TENORM in Montana is the Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ began ordinary administrative rulemaking procedures in 2016 to establish rules regulating the disposal in Montana of TENORM waste. Its first set of proposed rules were far looser that neighboring North Dakota. That raised concern about attracting dumping of North Dakota radioactive waste at high levels of radioactivity.
A great deal of public comment was presented to the DEQ. The citizen participation persuaded DEQ to make a major rewrite. DEQ invited and received input from a great variety of people through a host of various channels. It truly became quite a process. Our Commissioners tracked it every step of the way and participated at the key moments when the process provides opportunity. The Commissioners made written comments. Commissioner Shane Gorder and I traveled to Helena to provide oral testimony before a DEQ hearings examiner.
The rewritten proposed rules were much better. We still asked for some additional improvements. The DEQ continued to listen and they made every change we requested. Some of the key changes we supported are:
The Board agrees with the multiple rationales of the department for reducing the maximum acceptance concentration to 50 pCi/g and reducing the gate screening level to 100 µR/hr. The Board lays special stress on providing consistency with how neighboring states, particularly North Dakota, are regulating or plan to regulate TENORM waste. Richland County shares a border with the State of North Dakota. Interstate commerce between Richland County and North Dakota is vigorous. Allowing a maximum acceptance concentration above the 50 pCi/g that North Dakota allows would make Richland County a magnet for dumping hot loads from North Dakota suspected of being above the North Dakota maximum acceptance concentration. Reducing the maximum acceptance concentration to the same level as North Dakota helps prevent Richland County from becoming a target for dumping the worst TENORM waste.
The Department exhibited exemplary sensitivity to the safety interests of local government. For example, I requested an addition to the spill reporting requirements, as follows:
A person who spills TENORM waste and a person who transports TENORM waste for processing or disposal that is spilled for any reason during transport shall as soon as practically possible report the spill to the county coordinator of disaster and emergency services for the county where the spill occurs.
This will allow local DES to alert local government responders that they are responding to a TENORM area. Responders such as EMTs, fire fighters, deputy sheriffs, and DES personnel would have no other way of knowing since there is no requirement that TENORM be placarded in transportation. The Department listened, assimilated the comment and explanation, and they responded with an amendment to the proposed rules.
The Commissioners had everything going our way, but then suddenly this week, somehow an item got placed on the agenda of the Environmental Quality Council for April 27, 2020.
That is short notice.
The agenda items says, verbatim:
2:10 p.m. Proposed radioactive waste rule
That is vague. What is happening, and how did that get onto the agenda? Talk to different people who have been involved these past four years and you will hear different answers. It looks like it could be an attempt by someone to derail the administrative rulemaking process, paralyze that process, and open Montana to new radioactive waste sites where hot loads of radioactive waste from out of state would be dumped, escaping the tighter regulations of the states where the waste originates.
It will be interesting and quite important to see how the hearing before the EQC unfolds this coming week. The Commissioners maintain their vigil and are still in the fight. They have filed a written public comment and have signed up for links to the video conference of the hearing that would let them make oral public comment should that become necessary.
Following is a copy of the public comment they have filed with the Environmental Quality Council dated April 21, 2020.
Following is a copy of the public comment the Commissioners filed March 2, 2020 before the DEQ supporting the DEQ's responsive improvement of the proposed rules.
Following is a copy of the draft agenda that tells you the email address to make your own comment, and how you can connect into the hearing to listen and, should you chose, make oral public comment.
Guidance, directives, and orders of various civil governments are restricting the exercise of religion in various ways. Let’s be plainspoken: As Americans, we don’t like that. To possess all other civic freedoms but not freedom of religion is a state of misery.
Government restrictions are for the sake of saving physical life. Under the Fifth Commandment (You shall not kill), we must be for that. But the physical is not the only realm of human health, life, and death. In this pandemic, there also are matters of spiritual health, life, and death.
Consider a person dying of something completely aside from COVID-19. Consider the devil’s assaults in the hour of death. Confession, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar are the vaccines effective against the lethal disease of fear, doubt, and condemnation.
In a society of tension between church and state, how can we promote the health and life of citizens in both the physical and spiritual realms? Pandemic or no pandemic, there must be ways to love our neighbors in both realms.
In cyberspace, reactions to the current state of affairs for the church under civil government actions run the gamut from servile and slavish submission to open rebellion. Wherever you fall along that spectrum, I invite you to consider one proposition as still being true: Conflict be between church and state stands a chance of being softened by respectful petition to civil authorities for specific relief.
I have proof.
Clergy in my county asked whether they can visit parishioners who call for them. They want to be able to visit, and they want to obey the law. Good for them.
I read the 10-page directive of the Governor of Montana. There were a couple ways I could string together an argument that these visits, with proper precautions, could be allowed. But I was not sure. We don’t have pandemic emergency orders from the state but once every hundred years or so. The last time was the 1918 Spanish Influenza. These current orders are not ordinary documents, and it is more difficult than usual to be sure of interpretation.
The Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel was one of the presenters of an educational webinar about the pandemic and Montana’s actions to reduce its spread this past Monday morning. If anyone knows what the directive means, it would be him. That raised an opportunity. A person could ask him. What’s the worst that could happen? He could be too busy to answer everyone. He could be the wrong person to ask, and you need to ask someone else. There could be lots of things wrong with it. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
So I reached out Raphael Graybill, Governor Steve Bullock’s Chief Legal Counsel. God bless the Governor and his counsel. He responded personally to my messages. We talked through the scenarios. While this is not a formal legal opinion from him, for the time being, we have an arrangement that works for both church and state, for the government and the governed.
On the following conditions, a pastor in Montana may make pastoral visits:
1. Visits are subject to restrictions of particular venues, such as hospitals and nursing homes, which on their own apart from the Governor’s directive might completely prohibit visits or place restrictions beyond the ones listed here.
2. Use in-person visits only for acts than cannot be done adequately by other means. It is recognized that the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar cannot be done adequately by means other than in-person visit. [Give credit where credit is due. That is pretty decent consideration of the church’s interest by the state.]
3. Do not make physical contact with anyone during a visit.
4. Maintain distance of not less than 6 feet. (Note that some recommendations are for 10 feet. If 10 are feet available, use them.)
5. Wash hands as lately before a visit as possible. Carried-along hand sanitizer probably is best for use just before presenting for a visit.
6. Try not to touch any surfaces or objects (except the elements of the Sacrament and utensils for its administration)
7. Wash hands again shortly following a visit.
8. Take extra precautions around immune-compromised people and people 65 and older.
9. Note that both recommended guidance and enforceable directives and orders are changing on a daily basis. For example, a directive could be issued in the future that when going out of the home people are to wear face masks. Each person must stay up to date and follow current guidance, directives, and orders.
10. Understand that by visiting even one person, you could become a carrier of the disease and later infect others. The risk is not only to yourself becoming ill. It is a risk of you becoming a vector for the spread of the disease. Apply the above precautions strenuously with that in mind.
All in all, this transaction with the civil state on petition for interpretation of the Governor's order as applied to pastoral visits has been perfectly satisfactory. We on the church’s side should not add needlessly to tension with the state. We should not grandstand an issue. We should seek to resolve an issue rather than perpetuate it for some other agenda.
Remember to pray for the Governor of your state.