Congressional Roundup: Sustainability vs. safety

Delegation focuses on schools, banks, drone crash, forests, fitness 

By: - March 17, 2023 1:52 pm
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, participates in a Senate Banking Committee hearing in March 2023. (Screenshot from committee hearing video)

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, participates in a Senate Banking Committee hearing in March 2023. (Screenshot from committee hearing video)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

A new bill from Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, would take money away from sustainability efforts in schools and redirect it to school safety.

The bill takes aim at $500 million in funding appropriated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements at public school facilities. Rounds’ legislation would reallocate the money to states, so they could create school safety grants.

“The redirecting of funds would allow schools to access metal detectors and school security officers rather than providing solar panels at schools,” Rounds’ news release said.

Bank deregulation

Some financial experts say part of the blame for the recent Silicon Valley Bank collapse and related banking-industry woes is a 2018 rollback of banking regulations – especially a provision that pushed the trigger for tighter capital and liquidity standards from $50 billion in bank assets to $250 billion.

One of the supporters of that rollback legislation was Rounds, who was and still is a member of the Senate Banking Committee. 

A Bloomberg television host asked Rounds this week how he’d react if the Biden administration seeks to “tighten or re-tighten” banking regulations.

“Let’s not do a knee-jerk reaction,” Rounds said. “Let’s find out what it is that’s it’s going to take, get good data first, then we can decide whether or not we need to modify anything there, and whether or not the regulators actually utilized the data that is being provided right now.”

Rounds’ fellow Republican and South Dakotan, Sen. John Thune, who also voted for the 2018 regulatory rollback, offered a sharper take this week on Fox News.

“Why did the regulators not see this?” Thune said. “I mean, this seems to me like an epic failure of the job that they have to supervise the banks.”

Yet Thune, in a speech this week on the Senate floor, also accused the Biden administration of being too eager in its approach to regulation.

“President Biden has made aggressive use of regulatory power to push his agenda – and burden our economy in the process,” he said.

That comment came as Thune introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to conduct a more transparent and objective analysis of the economic impacts of proposed regulations.


Rounds is ‘pissed off’

During a public event hosted by the Ronald Reagan Institute, Rounds said he is “pissed off” about a Russian fighter jet’s collision with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, which caused the drone to crash into the Black Sea.

“The report coming out of our government is that this was an unprofessional act and environmentally unsound,” Rounds said. “I’m sorry, folks, they shot down a United States warplane. They took it out of action. And that’s the response we get back? So, yeah, not very happy about it.”

Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City is one of the locations where remote pilots control MQ-9 Reaper drones. The office of Rounds, who is on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, did not respond to a South Dakota Searchlight question this week about whether the crashed drone was piloted from Ellsworth.

Forest management

Thune introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Forest Service to expedite “treatment” (such as logging, thinning or prescribed fires) of more than 70 million acres of national forest lands to “reduce the threat of insect and disease infestations and catastrophic wildfires.”

The bill represents another salvo in the fight over logging levels for the Black Hills National Forest. Forest managers have allowed less logging recently, in response to Forest Service researchers who say a forest that’s already been drastically altered by wildfires and mountain pine beetles can no longer sustain as much logging as it once did.

Meat processing

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, went to Wall on Friday with Xochitl Torres, under secretary of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They celebrated the recent announcement of $3.3 million in federal funding for CNF Enterprises to construct a 30,000-square-foot meat processing facility in New Underwood. The plant will process up to 4,000 head per year, including beef, pork, lamb and buffalo. 

Fitness money

Thune and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would let Americans use a portion of their pre-tax health savings accounts (known as HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (known as FSAs) to pay for sports and fitness purchases such as gym memberships, fitness equipment and youth sports league fees.

The 62-year-old Thune celebrated the announcement with a social media highlight reel of himself working out and baring his biceps.

Other news

In other congressional action this week:

  • Rounds introduced legislation that would allow the year-round, nationwide sale of ethanol blends higher than 10 percent.
  • Rounds led a bipartisan group of 10 senators in drafting a letter urging two federal agencies to reconsider plans to increase business fees for H-2A and H-2B work visas, which bring temporary agricultural and other workers into the U.S. from foreign countries.
  • Rounds introduced a bill that would allow the interstate sale of state-inspected meat and poultry.
  • Johnson introduced a bill to expand work requirements for federal nutrition aid.




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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.