Session Review: Natural Resources

The Natural Resources Committee considered legislation that will help harness the energy potential of wind, control the deer population and provide tools to natural resources districts to carry out their duties.

Senators passed an omnibus renewable energy bill that establishes a process by which the Nebraska Power Review Board can approve private renewable energy projects that export most of their energy.

LB1048, introduced by the committee, provides for the approval of certified renewable export facilities, which are defined as facilities constructed and owned by a private entity using solar, wind, biomass or landfill gas to generate electricity. Facilities also must have 10-year power purchase agreements that direct 90 percent of their output to out-of-state customers.

The bill, passed 48-0, exempts wind turbines from personal property tax and institutes a nameplate capacity tax of $3,518 per megawatt of energy produced. Turbines owned by governmental entities, cooperatives and net-metering customers are exempt from the nameplate capacity tax, the revenues from which will be directed to local taxing entities that previously levied personal property taxes on the turbines.

A bill intended to help control the state’s deer and mountain lion populations was passed 46-1.

LB836, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, authorizes the secretary of the state Game and Parks Commission to extend existing deer hunting seasons via executive order. The secretary may specify the deer species to be hunted and bag limits for depredation seasons or season extensions.

The bill allows an unlimited number of free permits for antlerless deer to be issued during a deer depredation season to any person, together with his or her immediate family, who owns or operates at least 20 acres of farm or ranch land within the geographic area specified by the commission.

All revenues from the sale of special depredation season permits are allocated for the abatement of damage caused by deer.

The bill prohibits hunting within a 100-yard radius of an inhabited dwelling or livestock feedlot, unless hunting by rifle, in which case the radius is 200 yards.

LB836 also includes provisions of LB747, introduced by Ellsworth Sen. LeRoy Louden, which allows landowners to kill mountain lions found stalking, killing or consuming livestock on their property or to apply for a 30-day permit to kill a mountain lion preying on their livestock or poultry. It also clarifies that a person may defend against a mountain lion that stalks, attacks or shows unprovoked aggression towards any person.

Those who kill a mountain lion are required to transfer the carcass to the commission.

Natural resources districts must meet new requirements before using eminent domain to claim private land for recreational trails under LB1010.

Introduced by Louisville Sen. Dave Pankonin and passed 42-0, the bill requires a 67 percent supermajority of an NRD board to vote to conduct a public hearing if negotiations with landowners to acquire land for a recreational trail or corridor are unsuccessful. After the hearing, eminent domain may be approved by another supermajority vote of the board.

To proceed, the board must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that a number of criteria are met, including provision of public notice to landowners, consideration of route alternatives, analysis of potential benefits to adjacent communities and good faith attempts to address landowner concerns.

The bill provides some liability protection for affected landowners and requires formal agreements between districts and landowners that outline each party’s rights and obligations regarding the trails. NRDs are required to allow landowners whose properties are divided by trails reasonable access at a location mutually agreed upon.

Water management

The Legislature passed several bills in 2010 that have implications for natural resources districts’ water management.

Introduced by Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer and approved 46-0, LB764 permits NRDs in areas not declared fully appropriated or over appropriated to create integrated management plans (IMPs) with the state Department of Natural Resources to achieve and sustain a long-term balance between water users and water supplies.

IMPs require NRDs and the department to consider the effects of existing and potential new water uses on surface water appropriators and ground water users.

LB862, introduced by Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen and passed 40-2, extends the use of river-flow enhancement bonds to NRDs containing basins with IMPs that explicitly state the district’s intent to use river-flow enhancement bonds for qualified projects.

The bill permits NRDs to use the occupation tax to pay for all or part of one or more qualified projects. In addition, NRDs with more than one basin are permitted to restrict the occupation tax to basins affected by IMPs.

Prior to the passage of LB862, river-flow enhancement bonds could be issued only by NRDs in a river basin subject to an interstate compact among three or more states. The bonds can be used to pay or refinance the costs of qualified projects, which include vegetation management, augmentation of river flows, acquisition of ground water and surface water rights and the purchase or lease of canals and other works used for irrigation.

To service the bonds, NRDs are authorized to levy an occupation tax not to exceed $10 per irrigated acre.

Senators also created a task force to prepare for the state’s future water issues.

LB1057, introduced by Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson and passed 48-0, establishes the Republican River Basin Water Sustainability Task Force, whose purpose is to develop a plan to attain water sustainability and avoid water-short years. The task force will present a final report to the Legislature by May 15, 2012.

Finally, with the passage of LB689, corn producers will not be subject to a future checkoff.

Introduced by Langemeier, the bill repeals a scheduled 0.6-cent per bushel or hundredweight excise tax, or “checkoff,” on corn and grain sorghum sold or delivered from Oct. 1, 2012, to Oct. 1, 2019. Revenues currently collected from the corn excise tax are deposited in the Ethanol Production Incentive Cash Fund and were scheduled for transfer to the Water Resources Cash Fund on Dec. 31, 2012.

LB689, passed 41-1, will instead divide half of the fund’s balance between the Nebraska Corn Development, Utilization, and Marketing Fund and the Grain Sorghum Development, Utilization, and Marketing Fund, based on the portion of the fund derived from the individual commodities. The remaining 50 percent of the EPIC Fund will be deposited in the state’s general fund.

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