Democrats in the Legislature are standing up against one of Governor Kristi Noem’s worst ideas, the burial by “merger” of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into the pro-business Department of Agriculture.
Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901, sponsored by five bold Democrats, would halt the “merger”, which Governor Noem made official earlier this year with Executive Order 2021-03 on January 19. Her bad plan has been all about agribusiness and getting environmental protection out of the way of agriprofits, and that bias was apparent in the roster of opponents who showed up to testify against SRD 901 on Thursday. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden led the agribusiness elites who stood up to claim their industrial exceptionalism in being better positioned to manage the environment they exploit for a living than any of the environmental groups who spoke in favor of SRD 901. He did get backup from the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, which passed a resolution celebrating its historical collaboration with the Department of Ag and apparent eagerness to see that Department’s power and portfolio grow. But everyone else speaking in favor of making Ag its own environmental manager, including rancher Pat Trask from Meade County, stands to make more money by subordinating environmental regulation to the agribusiness agenda.
Pat Trask also said the E in DENR was a part of a “globalist confraternity,” brought here by Bill Janklow and pushed by George Soros, that “desires to depopulate the world,” and changing from the “false god of E” to the good cowboys of A will save us from Soros.
Minority Leader and prime SRD 901 sponsor Troy Heinert (D-26/Mission) rebutted, “I consider myself a pretty good cowboy, and I don’t even know George Soros.” The other South Dakotans who spoke for SRD 901 aren’t Soros globalists, either. Doug Sombke from the Farmers Union, Paul Lepisto from the Izaak Walton League, Chris Hesla from the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, Nancy Hilding from the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, Ailee Johns from the Sierra Club, Rebecca Terk from Dakota Rural Action, and individual speakers Doug Sombke, John Simpson, and Travis Entenman—they’re all thinking a lot less about globalism and more about how we can’t replace our precious remaining natural treasures, not to mention drinkable water. They’re likely more against globalism than the big corporate factory farms and CAFOs that want to consolidate their holdings, render our local independent farmers into a captive tenant labor force, and squeeze the life from our land for the sake of maximal inputs into their global supply chains.
John Simpson of Pierre also made the important point that during the dramatic budget crunch of 2011, Governor Dennis Daugaard didn’t see the need to consolidate any state departments, never mind Agriculture and Environment & Natural Resources. We had enough money then to keep those vital and disparate agencies separate; we have more than enough money now amidst a growing surplus to maintain robust and independent departments for promoting agriculture and protecting the environment.
And son of a gun, good sense won out over business-über-alles, by one vote. Senator Heinert pulled Republican Senators Julie Frye-Mueller, Herman Otten, and V.J. Smith to the aye side of SRD 901, while only Senators Gary Cammack, Mary Duvall, and Joshua Klumb voted against. Senator Heinert’s resolution to stop the subordination of environmental regulation to agribusiness thus goes to the Senate floor for a debate worth having.
There is certainly overlap between the portfolios of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. But the DENR handles numerous issues to which the Department of Agriculture simply cannot provide the proper expertise or administrative focus, vital issues like stormwater discharge from factories and construction sites and urban pollution. Ag experts stretching to figure out such diverse environmental issues will not result in greater efficiency; it will only result on poorer management of both issues.
The Senate could take up SRD 901 tomorrow. Corporate agriculture has already captured on South Dakota state department; don’t let them capture another. Contact your Senators, and tell them to protect our natural resources by voting for Senate Resolution of Disapproval 901.