Gubernatorial election could shape sustainability policy

As the Nov. 8 midterm general elections approach, the new South Dakota governor could shape how environmental issues are addressed in the state. 

South Dakota is the 5th most conservative state, with nearly 50% of voters being Republican. However, research by Wallethub found that South Dakota ranks as the ninth most environmentally-friendly state in the nation.

Rebublican incumbent Kristi Noem’s political agenda prioritizes the economy’s health. She views environmental health only as a way to benefit agriculture.

State Rep. Jamie Smith is running as the Democratic candidate for governor. Along with his party, Smith favors long-term health of the environment.

Tracey Quint, the Libertarian candidate, has been less vocal about environmental issues. The Libertarian approach has historically included less involvement with the government, leading to more responsibility for the individual’s use of natural resources. This is something that needs to be considered, as government policies affect future environmental issues.

South Dakota’s economy and natural resources benefit from environmental policies, as agriculture is the state’s number one industry, with an economic benefit of $32.1 billion. Policies such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan and other standards for the amount of mercury, ozone and other toxicities in the air help reduce emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants.

This management and conservation of natural resources, land and national parks, as well as livestock management and grazing on federal land currently sustains an optimal environment for South Dakota’s agriculture productions.

In 2021, Noem merged the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“The new department is continuing to protect and preserve agriculture and the environment while providing more efficient government services to producers,” Noem said.

There is concern that this merge prioritizes the economy over environmental issues. With economic agricultural gain at the forefront, , Noem is expanding South Dakota meat markets through a grant program that allows producers to invest in new equipment and facilities. Noem is working with USDA to allow farmers to sell meat across state lines.

Smith would like to reconsider the merging of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 

“The Democratic candidate, state Rep. Jamie Smith, said science and public input would drive the state’s water, wildlife and habitat management decisions if he wins the November election,” SDPB’s Joshua Haiar said in the article “Public land issues highlighted in governor’s race.” 

The Democratic party tends to be more concerned over the health of the environment than the Republican party. According to Political Parties, “Democrats are more than three times as likely as Republicans to say dealing with climate change should be a top priority (78% vs. 21%).” 

The future South Dakota governor’s affiliation will affect environmental issues and policies within the state well after the midterm elections.

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