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Noem Appoints Republican Flunky with No Environmental Resume to Run DENR

Hunter Roberts, Twitter profile pic, retrieved 2019.07.31.
Hunter Roberts, Twitter profile pic, retrieved 2019.07.31.

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.


  1. 96Tears 2019-07-31 09:21

    It fell on the necks of both Bill Janklow and George Mickelson to find a state paycheck for Clint Roberts. Janklow made him state ag secretary in 1979 where Clint stayed parked, accomplishing very little and collecting paychecks until he ran for Congress in 1980 and won. In 1982, the state lost its Second Congressional District and Roberts was defeated by First District Congressman Tom Daschle. In D.C., Clint became a media dandy with his chiseled looks and the myth that he was the Marlboro Man. In truth, he applied for the commercial position and lost to another contender. Yet, the media branded him with the moniker. Incorrectly. After staying out of office for a few more years, Mickelson gave him a job and parked him in an office where he quietly collected pay.

    Your portrayal of the grandson is accurate. Despite having impressive education degrees, his tenure in office has been bland and uninteresting. So, what does this governor do with a load like this? Fire him and inflame the old Dan Parish/Jim Abdnor/Walt Miller wing of the state GOP? Or give him a job with the safe knowledge you won’t hear much coming out of his office?

    State government in South Dakota has had its share of little, lost golden boys since Dick Kneip and Harvey Wollman left office. Look at the hog trough that was kept filled with the unchecked money flowing into GEAR UP and the pilfering of EB-5 money. It’s a lawless world in Pierre.

    It warms the cockles of my heart to see that this tradition is taking care of new generations of lost golden boys continues to bring money and comfort into already comfortable lives.

  2. Nick Nemec 2019-07-31 09:32

    This is just another example of having the right genetics to be given a plum job in South Dakota state government.

  3. Ken 2019-07-31 10:29

    Noem’s once again proving she’s a GOP lapdog and completely unfit to be Governor of anything, let alone SD.

  4. Donald Pay 2019-07-31 10:52

    He was a policy advisor to Daugaard and in the GOED energy office. He needs to disclose all his writing and provide records of his meetings during that time. That would demonstrate whether he had any real expertise or knowledge on environmental issues, whether he was a shill or whether he was just collecting a paycheck.

    There were several issues of importance taken up by Daugaard, including radioactive waste matters involving shale and deep borehole, the Big Stone plant, wind development, and probably other matters. These all would have come through Roberts’ office. In addition, he would have had authority to comment or provide input into comments on NEPA documents. Those writings would be important to have to see what sort of input he provided on behalf of SD citizens, what the level of his expertise was, and whether he was able to strike a reasonable balance on these issues. If he has no documents to provide, I can only assume he was there taking up space and collecting a hefty check, courtesy of the taxpayers. In that case, he probably doesn’t deserve the job.

    I’m willing to withhold judgement on his qualifications until he provides some real world documentation of his expertise or involvement in these matters.

  5. Deb 2019-07-31 12:20

    It’s not what you know but who you know. They prove that time and time again. Friends doing favors and inept people running our government. Welcome to South Dakota.

  6. Robert McTaggart 2019-07-31 14:29

    Regarding shale and deep boreholes, I point you to the other alternative that uses horizontal drilling techniques, not vertical ones. You don’t go as deep as the vertical variety, but you get to the desired material (which could be, but doesn’t have to be, shale).

    “The idea of deep borehole disposal for nuclear waste is not new, but Deep Isolation is the first to consider horizontal wells and is the first to actually demonstrate the concept in the field (see figure), showing that the technology is not just theoretical. The field demonstration occurred on January 16th when it placed and retrieved a waste canister from thousands of feet underground.”

  7. Curt 2019-07-31 16:02

    Pirner was bad. This is worse. But it really should come as a surprise to no one who’s been paying attention.
    It is confirmation that elections have consequences. Had Billie Sutton prevailed last November, he would have brought new leadership and new ideas to state government – something which has not happened in the past 40 years. The new appointment at DENR represents one more unfortunate consequence of last November’s outcome.

  8. Robin Friday 2019-07-31 16:24

    I think I will apply to be State Medical Director. I have no medical degree but I do have a chronic illness. However, I’m afraid the D behind my name would quickly disqualify me under vetting. So perhaps I should go re-register.

  9. Laurisa 2019-07-31 19:25

    It appears that Wingnut Welfare is alive and well in this great, corrupt (or should that be greatly corrupt?) state. No surprise there!

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-31 21:08

    So ongoing nepotism, right? Hunter gets these jobs because he’s part of a family—not the Governor’s immediate family, but one of the prairie-mafia families that runs the machine?

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-31 21:10

    Robin, under the logic of picking Roberts as the top candidate for the job, you’d want tp pick a medical director who would help more South Dakotans get sick and thus promote economic development by helping the medical industry sell more drugs and devices and stays in the hospital.

  12. Donald Pay 2019-08-01 09:37

    Did Roberts get the job because of family connections or because he proved himself as a good butt kisser of special interests?

    The Roman client-patron social structure is a prominent fixture in South Dakota governance. Clearly family connections help to establish these links, but at this stage of his career he’s done sufficient butt-kissing with the power elite who actually run things. He probably had enough chits with enough high roller special interests that he rose over the scientifically qualified people at the DENR or from elsewhere who might have been interested in the position.

    Family connections might get you a policy job at GOED. It won’t get you the DENR Secretary position. If someone has a history of doing an effective job for the special interests that, and that alone, is enough of a qualification for the Republican Party. Heavens, they wouldn’t want someone who is actually qualified, would they?

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