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After the Trump assassination attempt, defining democracy gets even harder; Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate; DC residents push back on natural gas infrastructure buildup; and a new law allows youth on Medi-Cal to consent to mental health treatment.

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Donald Trump is formally put up for GOP nomination and picks Ohio Senator J.D. Vance as his running mate. Former presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy and swing state delegates consider ticket.

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Enticing remote workers to move is a new business strategy in rural America, Eastern Kentucky preservationists want to save the 20th century home of a trailblazing coal miner, and a rule change could help small meat and poultry growers and consumers.

Ag Dept., DNR Merger for SD Back in Spotlight

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Friday, January 15, 2021   

PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota's governor is reviving her proposal to merge two state agencies, including one that oversees protections for public lands and waterways, raising concerns from environmental groups.

In her State-of-the-State address this week, Gov. Kristi Noem made mention of her idea from last year to combine the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the Agriculture Department.

Noem said agriculture is the state's top industry and needs new ways to keep it thriving.

Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, called the merger a bad idea.

"The two organizations perform distinctly different missions and should be separate," Hesla contended. "The majority of the DNR's mission has nothing to do with agriculture, although the portion that does overlap primarily is [of] a regulatory nature."

Hesla worried a merger would weaken enforcement efforts for pollution from farm runoff. Some ag-industry leaders have expressed concerns as well, especially if future governors place a greater emphasis on protecting the environment.

But the South Dakota Farm Bureau backs the proposed merger, saying it would create efficiencies, as producers routinely work with both agencies.

Hesla stated his biggest concern is how a merger would affect the state's water resources.

He noted surface-water conditions are deteriorating, and agriculture has been a key contributor to climate-related issues.

"Agricultural pollution is a threat, and it's a worry," Hesla cautioned.

A report last year by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said 78% of South Dakota rivers and streams are "impaired" in terms of water quality.

Under state law, the Legislature would have to authorize a combined budget for both departments to merge. That's expected to come up in budget talks this session.


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