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State Department Merger Pitched As Streamlining Government


Governor Kristi Noem’s merger of the state Departments of Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources is being pitched as making state government more efficient.

Not everyone is convinced by the consolidation.

The move comes a few months after Kim Vanneman resigned as head of the Ag department in South Dakota. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden served as interim secretary.

Now, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Hunter Roberts, will head up both departments, now called Agriculture and Natural Resources.

One industry the move could affect is the growing number of animal feedlots in the state.

Roberts says the department will continue to enforce regulations on feedlots. Roberts says they’ve added more employees for better turnaround on permits and inspections

“I think there are truly some synergies with the Department of Ag on the inspection side where we might be able to utilize some of their inspection team to cover some of those duties,” Roberts says. “I’m very excited about this merger from the CAFO side of things. I think it’s a win-win. We’re going to be more responsive to complaints and we’re going to be more responsive to producers.”

But the department merger concerns Dakota Rural Action.

Stephanie Peterson is a member and treasurer of the group. She thinks the state has weak oversight and environmental regulations on animal feedlots. She says the departments have separate roles.

“They’re very different, but also related in some ways,” Peterson says. “It was kindof out of left field, this announcement, with no background and no reason given for it. Obviously, I’m curious as is a lot of local consumers and producers in the area.”

Republican Governor Kristi Noem says merging the departments is a chance to streamline state government.

Starting September 8, Hunter Roberts will serve as interim Secretary of Agriculture, while continuing to lead the DENR, until the merger is complete.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.