The South Dakota Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are merging into one department.
“South Dakota will be the only state in the United States that doesn’t have its own designated environmental agency,” Ailee Johns, 2020 South Dakota state senate candidate for District 17, said.
Gov. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Hunter Roberts claim the purpose of merging the two departments is to save money.
It’s hard to say exactly how the environment is going to be affected and what bills are going to be passed through the new department, Johns said.
Along with the environment, there’s no way to tell how agriculture is going to be affected. Local farms might be affected by this merger.
Heidi Heikes of the Heikes Farm said her farm doesn’t expect much of an effect from the merger.
The Heikes Family Farm specifically sells Community-supported agrculture (CSA) shares. These shares allow customers access to fresh, chemical-free produce.
Johns said she believes there’s a danger of one department’s interests overruling the other’s.
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“If there’s no checks and balances between the two departments, who’s to say that one department isn’t just going to completely run wild over the other department,” Johns said. “We come from a largely agricultural state. And so it’s pretty likely that it will come out in favor of Ag over the environment.”
There are currently no definite budget proposals for how the state is going to distribute federal money between the two departments.
“Every state gets money from the EPA to focus on environmental things,” Johns said. “If that money is then just funneled into a mix of Ag and environment, how will there be any checks as to where that money is being used?”
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South Dakota currently has over $193.4 million in their reserve fund alone.
Johns said she worries the move along with other actions taken by the state government could remove South Dakotans’ ability to bring their concerns to regulatory bodies.
“Already, there was a Bill, 1028, that passed both the House and Senate and is now being sent to Governor Noem to be signed into law that removes participation from the people of South Dakota in water permit applications,” Johns said. “Not being able to testify against the water board is huge.”
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Johns said the merger could go against tribal treaties.
“It messes with treaties that the federal government has with the tribes here in South Dakota as far as water rights,” Johns said.
Johns speculated that the first thing to be damaged will be waterways, which she said are already compromised. In Vermillion, this would involve the Missouri and Vermillion rivers.
Johns said South Dakotans who wish to voice their concerns should contact their elected representatives.
“If you are registered to vote in the State of South Dakota, contact your representative senators about the merger,” Johns said. “That’s all we can do.”