By Ken Winston, Chapter Policy Advocate
I have been sending regular email updates on legislative activities for the last couple of months so I will use this as an opportunity to summarize what has happened. Since dealing with climate change is the highest priority for both the Club and the Chapter, I have focused my attention on efforts that are intended to bear fruit on this issue, some short term, but mostly over the long run.
Overall, it hasn’t been a good year for environmental or conservation efforts in the Legislature.
Senator Ken Haar’s LB 885 that would make state buildings use energy star ratings to determine their energy use received a bogus fiscal note and never got out of committee due to lack of cooperation from the Administration. Senator Heath Mello’s LB 731 would have provided tax credits for recycling businesses, but it has stalled on General File and is dead for the year.
LB 473, Senator Louden’s latest effort to exterminate prairie dogs, passed this year. I worked with other conservation organizations to try to rally opposition to the bill, but the organizations whose mission is most closely tied to protecting wildlife didn’t begin to get involved until LB 473 was well on its way to passage and it was too late to stop it. I provided information both to senators and other opponents indicating legal defects in the bill and I believe that it should be challenged by someone who might be impacted by its provisions.
I testified against LB 1043, Senator Langemeier’s bill to give public power districts the authority to guarantee special long-term rates for economic development purposes. The purpose of my testimony was to let the committee know that we believe economic development is better achieved through renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts. LB 1043 is part of a package, including special tax incentives, to lure a high energy use data center to Nebraska, so of course it sailed right through the Legislature and has been approved by the Governor.
My neutral testimony on LB 742 helped lead to amendments that make it easier for private developers to develop renewable energy projects, since the original bill would have done the opposite. However, LB 1033, which would have provided tax exemptions for renewable energy projects, has stalled in committee.
I have provided regular updates on LB 1161, so I won’t go into detail now. The Nebraska Sierra Club had provided two opinions (mine and Alan Peterson’s) that the bill was unconstitutional special legislation. LB 1161 has been re-written multiple times, 10 at last count. A compromise amendment was adopted on Select File on Thursday which improves the original bill in the following ways: it provides for more public input into process, including public hearings and TransCanada will have to pay for the review. It still would allow review of a route by the DEQ with approval by the Governor. It is not as rigorous as the Public Service Commission process provided by LB 1 from last year’s special session that we wanted them to have to use.
The other problems are that the most recent amendments were presented without any opportunity for public review or input. Although it may have fixed some of the constitutional problems, it is probably still unconstitutional because it delegates legislative authority with no standards. It also still has a special process for the use of eminent domain by a private company which is also questionable legally.
I have also been working with the Beyond Coal Campaign to help them develop their efforts in Nebraska and will likely contract with them to spend more time working on that effort when the Legislature adjourns next week. A major part of the effort will be educating and motivating the public about the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency and pushing back on the public utilities’ efforts to claim that coal is the cheapest and most reliable form of energy.
I am also looking into efforts to reach out and connect with younger people and met with Candy Bless to discuss her work on behalf of the Sierra Student Coalition.