RAPID CITY, S.D. — South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has proposed merging the South Dakota Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. So far, the proposal has support from farm groups, but it also needs legislative approval.
State officials provided an update at the South Dakota Farm Bureau Convention in Rapid City. Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden said there are synergies between the two divisions, but also duplication, so there could be some efficiencies gained that could lead to savings in the state budget.
“The fact of the matter is, both departments have become largely regulatory in nature, and so it’s a good fit from an efficiency standpoint and reducing redundancy in regulation to have them working together,” he said.
Hunter Roberts, secretary of South Dakota’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, said both agencies work on common areas, from livestock permits to pesticide spill investigations.
“There is some overlap in inspectors, in team members where both agencies were going to incidences or both agencies were going to permittees, and this merger allows them to consolidate that,” he said.
While livestock permitting is a local control issue, state officials say the merger would enhance agricultural development efforts in the state, a priority for the Noem administration.
“We took a lot of steps last year with legislation to streamline that process, and so I think a combined department will work hand in glove to present a lot smoother process in moving those projects forward,” Rhoden said.
Plus, the marriage would allow the state to do more to support conservation efforts and programs.
“I think in the long run it's going to be the right thing to do for South Dakota. You know, our ag producers are the true environmentalists,” Rhoden said.
So far, most of the state’s farm organizations seem open to the idea. South Dakota Farm Bureau lobbyist Mike Held said state officials met with their board in September and they were impressed with the proposal.
“We think there’s a lot of common areas between DENR and the Department of Ag, whether it has to do with livestock and livestock permits and expansion of livestock, forestry, conservation, soil and water regulation, fertilizers and chemicals,” he said.
Held said right now if there is a chemical spill the individuals responsible have to go through and work with regulatory staff from both the Department of Ag and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“So, it looks like there should be some cost savings to reduce the amount spent by state government in some of these common areas,” he said.
Roberts said the merger can be done administratively, but the state Legislature can oppose the proposal.
“So, the governor will do an executive reorganization order when the Legislature starts. The Legislature does not have to do anything to approve it. What they would have to do is vote against the merger,” he said.
So far, Held said he hasn’t heard of any major objections by state lawmakers, so he thinks it has a good chance of being approved in the upcoming session. However, the incoming chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Marty Overweg, R-New Holland, said he wants more details from Noem before making a decision, and he said other legislators are asking for the same information.
Without opposition by the state Legislature, the two departments will become one within 90 days. The merged agency would be called the Department of Ag and Natural Resources. At that time Roberts, the current secretary, would be appointed by Noem to head the new division.