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Gov. Kristi Noem defends merged ag, environment agencies at summit

Defending her decision to merge agencies tasked with protecting the environment and servicing the agricultural industry, the Republican governor told an ag summit she wants regulators to have an "agricultural background"

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem addresses an agricultural summit at The District in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Friday, July 9, 2021. (Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service)
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday morning, July 9, told about 100 attendees at an agriculture summit in Sioux Falls that she believes government should be a "friend to agriculture."

"I want agriculture to be on the forefront of everybody's mind," said the first-term Republican governor and former member of Congress. "(I want) those who regulate agriculture, who are out there deciding on permits, those who are out there environmentally doing evaluations on your property to have an agriculture background, too, to be sitting side-by-side each other in offices with a mindset of what can we do to partner together."

The two-day Governor's Agriculture Summit began Thursday, July 8, with visits to farms in eastern South Dakota and speeches by bison ranchers, an agronomist, and a Minnesota-based motivational speaker.

Noem said she will be unable to attend an awards ceremony Friday evening, so Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden will honor a South Dakota farmer.

"He's probably going to give you a new horse or something," said Noem, to laughter, acknowledging her lieutenant governor (who sat beneath the stage) was "mad at me right now."

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Noem at the summit defended the recently consolidated state Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, two agencies that political opponents have suggested have cross-purposes.

"We are conservationists," Noem said, standing beneath a new seal for the merged environmental protection and agriculture agencies. "We are environmentalists."

In March, a resolution decrying the merger fell short by a slim margin. The resolution came amid concerns that environmental regulations to protect rivers, forests and grasslands would be shed under priorities of the state's ag industry (estimated to have a $32 billion impact on the state).

The two separate entities serve as a "valuable check and balance," said the resolution, brought by Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert , D-Mission.

Officials at DANR (pronounced "danner") have maintained they'll continue enforcing federal and state environmental protections, though some remain skeptical. At a water hearing this spring it was revealed that the state has inspected just a fraction of the storm runoff sites they're required to under the Clean Water Act.

Considered by some as a potential presidential runner on the Republican side in 2024, Noem also repeated a mantra on Friday morning at The District in southwest Sioux Falls that she's tried out in previous speeches , telling those gathered to "be happy."

"I would encourage you to turn your TVs off, to get some perspective," Noem said. "This world is negative."

During the address just shy of 20 minutes, Noem also spoke to the price-gouging allegations ranchers have lobbed at meatpackers, calling for an investigation from the Department of Justice, and she also reiterated that "a lot of the state's already burned up," with the ongoing drought proving a hazard for farmers and ranchers.

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