I’m concerned about Governor Kristi Noem’s push to bury the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the pro-business Department of Agriculture. The South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation is burning the other end of our shared worry candle: they think merging the departments could lead to Farm Bureau’s pro-business concerns being buried under the regulatory keenness of a more environmentally conscious future administration:
The concerns of farmers and ranchers is that even though the Noem administration has been supportive of the agricultural industry, future governors may take a different approach, said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau Federation. If a future governor appoints a department secretary who favors tougher environmental regulation of agriculture, there won’t be someone of equal rank to push back, he said.
“Historically, there have been some issues that come up where the Department of Ag and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have not met on the same side,” VanderWal said. “Most of the concern would be that the ag department would turn more toward regulation, and maybe have a lack of understanding of what [farming] operations need” [Nick Lowrey, “Concerns Arise over Merger of S.D. Agricultural and Environmental Agencies,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.09.02].
Lest I get in the habit of agreeing with the right-wing, pro-corporate, anti-environmentalist Farm Bureau, let me note that VanderWal starts from the false premise that Big Ag and any other corporate interest needs an agency of government to advocate for its interests. A good capitalist would say that business can advocate for itself and that government’s proper role is to promote reasonable and equitable regulations that pick no winners in the marketplace, not act as a marketing agency for certain dominant corporate interests.
But VanderWal is saying that South Dakota farming is so weak that it can’t survive without its own state agency dedicated to propping up farmers with favors and subsidies, well, then, o.k., fine. Amidst such crony-corporate socialism, it makes perfect sense that the agency doing favors for special agriculture interests needs to remain separate from and checked by the agency charged with protecting everyone’s interest in clean air and water. Rock on, Scott! I’m with you! No merger!
The Farm Bureau, we real environmentalists, and just regular folks interested in government may all be alarmed by the apparent ready-fire-aim nature of Noem’s department-merger proposal:
Details on the merger are hard to come by because they don’t exist yet, said Maggie Seidel, senior adviser and policy director for Gov. Noem. The merger, announced in an Aug. 27 news release, calls for current Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Hunter Roberts to take the top job at the Department of Agriculture on Sept. 8 and officially begin the process of merging the two disparate departments. The stated goal for the merger is to streamline the functions of both departments and make more efficient use of tax dollars.
The new department will be known as the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Beyond the name and who will be in charge of the new department, most details still need to be ironed out, Seidel said [Lowrey, 2020.09.02].
Pick the name and the manager first, then work out the actual operational details? Who’s running this show, Michael Scott?
Luckily, we have a chance at some Legislative oversight. Article 4 Section 8 of the South Dakota Constitution allows the Governor to reorganize state agencies as she “considers necessary for efficient administration.” However, “If such changes affect existing law, they shall be set forth in executive orders, which shall be submitted to the Legislature within five legislative days after it convenes, and shall become effective, and shall have the force of law, within ninety days after submission, unless disapproved by a resolution concurred in by a majority of all the members of either house.” So both the Farm Bureau and I can talk to our Legislative candidates and work on sending a contingent to Pierre—maybe including some new, spineful legislators—who will block Governor Noem’s apparently ill-thought-out merger of the very differently missioned Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.