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Woster: Ag/DENR Merger Puts Agriculture Above Conservation

Speaking of environmental deregulation, journalist and outdoorsman Kevin Woster thinks Governor Kristi Noem’s executively ordered merger the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will result in shorting environmental protection:

Almost all other states have a stand-alone environmental agency. A few have multiple environmental agencies. And the few others that don’t have a stand-alone environmental agency combine environmental functions with health or wildlife-hunting-fishing departments.

I believe South Dakota still needs and will in the future need a stand-alone environmental-protection agency. But if it is to combine environmental protection and regulation with another agency, it would make much better sense to combine them with our state Health Department or with the state Game, Fish & Parks Department.

Either would fit in more appropriately than agriculture with the environmental-protection mission of the agency and would likely provide a healthier environment in the future [Kevin Woster, “Merger of Agriculture-Environment Agencies Likely to Hurt Environment,” SDPB: On the Other Hand, 2021.01.21].

Woster reads Noem’s press release announcing the merge order the same way I read her column earlier this month justifying the move, as evidence that Noem is prioritizing agriculture over environmental protection:

You have an indication where Noem’s priorities are in the first quote about the merger included in a news release sent out by her office today:

“With this merger, we are fostering sustainable agriculture and conservation that we can pass on to our kids and grandkids,” Noem says. “The merger will simplify life for South Dakota agriculture producers by creating a one-stop-shop in state government. It will also save taxpayers money by streamlining the state’s regulatory bodies, eliminating redundancies, and creating a better customer service experience for all.”

So, save money. One-stop-shop for producers. Simply their lives. Foster sustainable agriculture and conservation.

I’m glad she mentioned conservation. But where does it talk about protecting the environment for future generations? Where does it talk about how the merger will improve the environmental protection work now being done? Or making sure we leave a healthy, sustainable outdoor world for our kids and grandkids?

It doesn’t. And I have to suspect that’s because those crucial — to many of us, at least — values were not high on the list of priorities when Noem came up with this merger. They just don’t seem to be her kind of priorities [Woster, 2021.01.21].

Woster sees that ag-over-environment mindset saturating the Tuesday press release. Agriculture (and natural resources) Secretary Hunter Roberts speaks of the Governor’s “tremendous vision for the next generation of agriculture.” Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden touts his and Noem’s shared ag background and speaks only of promoting agriculture. Woster notes that the Farm Bureau, which dropped its concerns and endorsed Noem’s merger, gets space in the press release to cheer “solidify[ing] agriculture’s role in protecting our environment and natural resources while ensuring our industry in South Dakota remains economically viable and growing,” but the Governor does not include any voices from conservation groups.

But who needs conservationists or Kevin Woster, says the Governor’s spokesboy, Ian Fury, who tweets back at Woster that Woster can’t read:

Ian Fury, tweet to Kevin Woster, 2021.01.21.
Ian Fury, tweet to Kevin Woster, 2021.01.21.

Woster responds (and I urge you to read Woster’s responses, as he is one of the most civil responders in the South Dakota Twittersphere) that Fury makes a “Fair point on ‘conservation’…

But the state officials here—the governor, LG, and Roberts—don’t even mention ‘environmental protection or how it will be enhanced by this merger. Lots about ag benefits, though. That’s an oversight or a reflection of the intent of this merger” [Kevin Woster, tweet to Ian Fury, 2021.01.21]

Fury tries to smokescreen his boss’s marginalization of dedicated conservationists with this unintentional marginalization of his professional wordsmithing:

It’s different words that make the same point. We want to be able to hand our farms, our environment, our planet off to our kids and grandkids. We do that by focusing on conservation and sustainability.

They may not have used your preferred language, but they made this point [Fury to Woster, 2021.01.21].

The different words here do not make the same point. Woster’s careful and complete reading of the press release, its contents and its speakers—show the speakers’ intent to subordinate conservation to agriculture. The full text does not support the opening line Fury tries to use to deflect Woster’s criticism. And Fury’s own superlativized resort to the industry trope that “Farmers are the very best conservationists” marginalizes other participants in conservation. Fury’s trope suggests that outdoors enthusiasts like Woster, conservation groups like the Izaak Walton League and Friends of the Big Sioux River, environmental scientists, and anyone else not driving a tractor should defer to wisdom fo farmers in making environmental policy. Far from rebutting Woster’s analysis, Fury’s response confirms it.

We pay Fury $112,200 a year to choose words for the Governor. Six-figure spokespeople know keenly that the words we choose send clear messages. The words Fury chose to promote the Governor’s plan to merge the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources make very clear to Kevin Woster and other clear-eyed readers who and what comes first in that merger and who and what come last.

4 Comments

  1. Ross Hyde 2021-01-22

    Kristy likes to bring small farmers to the front with their tree groves and grass fence line’s for hunting when talking to the press while she’s pushing big dairy ,chicken,turkey,and cattle feed lots that bring pollution and cheap immigrant workers

  2. Donald Pay 2021-01-22

    Again, I will say it. DENR used to oversee federal environmental programs for which they received federal dollars, and spread other federal dollars around to local governments for infrastructure, such as waste treatment plants, solid waste facilities, etc. Clean water and clear air laws are federal laws, but states can have authority to managed those programs providing they have programs that meet the minimum federal standards. Whether that will still be the case under the merger is a big question, and it should be seriously contested with the new EPA administrators. CAFOs are under some federal regulatory programs, and I suspect there may be a greater emphasis on this during the Biden Administration. I notice there is a bill in to lengthen the period of the general permit. Not a good idea. So, that is one bad idea already being considered. If I were still in South Dakota I’d be in communication with the new EPA to ride herd on this merger, as well as the obvious loosening of standards that seem to be the point of this merger.

  3. Jenny 2021-01-22

    This isn’t surprising. Today’s republican party has not cared about environmental protections for years now. Top profit margins are of the utmost importance to Republicans. Don’t ever let a republican try to tell you they care about clean air, land and water.
    No governor in MN would be caught dead merging ag and DNR. In SD, its just business as usual at the expense of future generations.
    Farmers are among the biggest polluters and rates of cancers and Parkinson disease because of pesticides will continue to be high in rural areas. You get what you vote for.

  4. leslie 2021-01-22

    Woster: get a quality mic for SDPB interviews!

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