Well, at least she didn’t appoint her other daughter.
Last week Steve Pirner announced he’s retiring from his position as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Yesterday, Governor Kristi Noem appointed his replacement: Hunter Roberts, grandson of late Republican Congressman Clint Roberts and son of Republican fixture Pam Roberts.
I lead with those biographical details, because they seem to be Roberts’s primary qualifications to serve as our lead official for environmental protection.
Governor Noem and appointee Roberts say he represents environmental interests:
“I am grateful for Steve’s dedication to his department over the years and the ways he has worked to preserve and enhance South Dakota’s environment,” said Noem. “Our natural resources are some of our most precious resources; they are a vital key to preserving our outdoor legacy for the next generation. Hunter’s background and knowledge of state government will be an incredible asset as we continue moving this department forward and working to safeguard our environment.”
“This is a special opportunity for me to join Governor Noem’s team,” said Roberts. “The quality of our air, land, and water resources is critical to sustaining our state’s economy and maintaining healthy environments for our children and families to thrive in. I’m committed to working with communities and stakeholders across the state to protect our environment and manage our natural resources” [Office of the Governor, press release, 2019.07.30].
These statements are complete spin. Roberts has no substantial history of working to preserve and enhance the environment. The only work experience Roberts lists consists entirely of working for our Republican state executive branch. Roberts has never worked for DENR. He claims to have worked on environmental policy along with transportation, agriculture, energy, and Game Fish and Parks issues as a policy advisor to Governor Dennis Daugaard. Since Noem’s inauguration, he’s been marking time as a deputy secretary at the Department of Labor and Regulation. Prior to those posts, he directed state energy policy, which had him housed in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. His focus there was on building our energy industry, including trying to cash in on the Bakken oil boom.
To show that everything is connected, Roberts had just started working on promoting the oil and gas industry at GOED in 2007 when GOED chief Richard Benda announced that he had helped negotiate the “Gorilla Project,” which would become the push for the Hyperion refinery in Union County. Roberts later promoted the failed Hyperion refinery plan, saying in 2011 the economics for the project would work. Benda and EB-5 czar Joop Bollen tried to include Hyperion in their EB-5 visa investment scheme. After the death of Benda and the cancellation of Bollen’s private EB-5 contract, it fell to Roberts to handle the clean-up paperwork for GOED’s ill-fated, scandal-plagued EB-5 program
Roberts’s degrees are in business administration and law.
Noem could have named any number of experts on water quality, pollution control, and environmental science to this post. Instead she picks an economic development specialist.
Roberts is clearly qualified for to head a state agency in the Noem Administration. He exemplifies the business-über-alles, not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know mindset that runs our state.