Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Hunter Roberts, who has been directed by Governor Kristi Noem to bury his agency in a merger with the pro-corporate Department of Agriculture, says the dismantling of South Dakota’s environmental watchdog is going well (kind of like how Noem’s health officials come out each week to tell us the state’s fight against coronavirus is going well). Attorney David Ganje wonders why the merger is going at all, when the state appears to have made no solid fiscal case for this change:
A merger of government agencies is no different than a merger of businesses. The foremost argument by government (and business) in supporting the act of merger is the money argument: “the government will save money.” Will two state agencies merged as one save money and still each do their real job? No such evidence was presented. It is easy to cut and slash government departments to save money, but an economic advantage is hard to support if there has been no financial analysis. And just as relevant, how do you show an advantage if the merged agencies do not have related purposes along with some essential areas of comparable regulation? [David Ganje, “Combining Departments Is a Mistake,” Rapid City Journal, 2020.09.23]
Ganje recognizes that the widely disparate functions of the DENR and DOA will not fit well under one administrative roof:
The DENR deals with mining, oil exploration, maintaining water quality standards and regulating issues of pollution and resource management. These issues are not within the field of knowledge of experts in the Department of Agriculture. Even when the interest of the two agencies at first glance overlap, the two have little to no interaction. For example, when a large-scale dairy milking operation applied a few years back for a 750,000 gallons-per-day water use permit, the DENR played an important and exclusive role in the permitting process. The Department of Agriculture was not involved at all in the permitting and the ensuing litigation affecting the permit application. The expertise of the two agencies are identified as different by their long-standing separate existence [Ganje, 2020.09.23].
If we generously took Roberts and Noem at their word and assumed they were only looking to create efficiency, we would still have to conclude that they’ve come up with a plan that won’t work. You don’t create efficiency by putting two entities that pull in different directions on the same team. You only create tension, which Ganje concludes is meant to make one entity—the DENR—stop pulling in its direction:
Like it or not the DENR has the government role of a traffic cop. The DENR has too few advocates in the world of political influence. The DENR is an agency whose effectiveness political leaders would prefer to dilute. The DENR is the real target in this merger.
..a neutering job (taking the word ‘environment’ out of the title of the new merged department) is a not-too-subtle act by the administration reflecting its overall intent for the merger [Ganje, 2020.09.23].
Even if we took a generous position of not accusing anyone of any bad intent, even if we took Roberts and Noem at their word and assumed they are only looking to create effici
The Legislature has the power to stop this hasty, ill-advised merger, and son of a gun, we have people running around the countryside campaigning to remain or become legislators. Voters, ask your candidates where they stand on merging DENR and DOA. Ask them if they think putting two disparate agencies together will produce more efficient operations… or if they think that putting business boosters in charge of environmental protection is a good idea.