Session Review: Natural Resources

Ensuring the long-term sustainability of state water resources topped the list of natural resources issues considered by senators this session.

Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson introduced LB517, passed 45-0, which creates a task force to work on the state’s water issues. The Water Funding Task Force will comprise the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, the director of Natural Resources, the chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee and 10 additional members to be appointed by the governor.

The bill allocates $1 million for research, data collection and production of a final report, which the task force will submit to the Legislature by December 31. The report will identify water resources programs, projects and activities in need of funding to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, efficiency and productivity. These include:
• research, data and modeling needed to assist the state in meeting its water management goals;
• rehabilitation or restoration of existing and new water supply infrastructure;
• conjunctive management, storage and integrated management of ground and surface water; and
• compliance with interstate compacts or agreements.

LB634, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, establishes new procedures for fighting and preventing wildfires. The bill directs the Nebraska Forest Service to:
• contract with private aviation companies to place two single-engine air tankers at airports during fire season;
• thin forests to reduce fuel loads, substantially reducing risk to residents, communities and emergency personnel;
• provide expanded training programs for volunteer firefighters, private landowners and communities in order to increase fire suppression effectiveness and safety;
• develop a Nebraska-based Type 3 incident management team that would serve as a comprehensive resource to augment and help manage large wildfire operations;
• expand the federal excess property programs managed by the Nebraska Forest Service to provide volunteer fire districts with fire suppression equipment; and
• rehabilitate forest lands that have been destroyed by wildfires.

Additionally, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency will be responsible for placing one single-engine air tanker in the state. The bill passed on a 45-0 vote.

LB402, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello and remaining on select file, would allow more wind projects to qualify for a wind energy sales tax exemption.

Private wind energy projects currently qualify for a sales tax exemption on the equipment and supplies used in construction if at least 33 percent of the revenue from the project for the first 20 years is directed back to Nebraska residents or companies.

The bill defines a qualifying community-based energy development (C-BED) project as a new wind energy generation project using a wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas or low-emission fuel source that reduces the overall carbon emissions of the generation system.

The bill would amend the current statute by:
• expanding the definition of “payments to the local community” to include payments for products manufactured in Nebraska or by Nebraska companies and services provided by Nebraska companies as well as lease and easement payments to property owners;
• reducing the qualifying percentage threshold from 33 percent to 25 percent; and
• loosening corporate restrictions by allowing corporations domiciled in Nebraska to meet the definition of “qualified owner.”

LB388, introduced by the Natural Resources Committee, changes the selection process for state electric transmission projects approved by a regional transmission organization (RTO). The bill provides incumbent RTO members the right of first refusal for such projects. Incumbent facilities will have 90 days to notify the Power Review Board of their intention to construct, own or maintain the RTO-approved transmission line.

If no such notice is provided to the board, the right of refusal will be surrendered and any other incumbent transmission owner will be allowed to file for the right within 24 months after the first right notice is provided.

Senators passed the bill on a 44-0 vote.

Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen introduced LB522, which would provide compensation to members of irrigation districts and remains on select file.

The state Department of Natural Resources adopted a regulation in 2006 to prohibit surface water appropriators from storing or diverting in-stream flows in order to comply with an interstate compact. A 2007 negotiation between the department and landowners established a compensation schedule for those unable to access surface water for irrigation.

The bill would require the department to provide compensation to affected water users equal to the current compensation for dry-year leases used by natural resources districts. The bill was amended to place a $10 million limit on compensation provided to landowners under the bill.

Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer introduced LB203, passed 45-0, which excludes slag from being considered solid waste under Nebraska’s Environmental Protection Act.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery introduced LB362, which remains on general file and would eliminate the current park entry permit for Nebraska residents and instead place a $7 registration fee on motor vehicle registrations. The money generated from the new fee would be used to fund maintenance repairs and updates of state park facilities.

A pending Natural Resources Committee amendment would exempt certain vehicles from the fee, including school buses, farm trucks, soil and water conservation vehicles, government vehicles and those exempt from motor vehicle taxes. Vehicles with certain license plates also would be exempted, including those with Pearl Harbor, Gold Star, Prisoner of War, Disabled Veteran, Purple Heart and historical antique or vintage plates.

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson introduced LB57, which would require that any applicant using Nebraska Environmental Trust (NET) funds to purchase land include a contract provision for the replacement of lost property taxes if the land would then be sold, leased, transferred to, exchanged or encumbered by a federal agency.

The trust is supported by state lottery dollars, receiving 44.5 percent of dollars appropriated to the state Lottery Operation Trust Fund. Grants are awarded to applicants seeking to promote established environmental goals, including the protection of air, land, ground and surface water, flora and fauna, prairies and forests, wildlife and wildlife habitat and areas of aesthetic or scenic values.

The bill was bracketed until next session and remains on select file.

LB94, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas and passed 42-0, allows nonresidents to apply for state hunting permits. The bill authorizes the state Game and Parks Commission to issue deer permits to nonresidents only after 85 percent of the available permits have been issued to residents.

The bill also allows the issuance of a resident elk permit once every five years. The one limit per lifetime policy is changed to a one harvest per lifetime policy.

A third provision allows the commission to issue limited deer, antelope, wild turkey or elk permits to individuals or members of a partnership, corporation or trust that owns at least 80 acres of land for agricultural purposes.

Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch introduced LB499, passed 44-0, which establishes a new set of administrative procedures under which state Game and Parks Commission orders can be passed.

The bill categorizes several issues including conservation orders, seasons, open and closed areas and bag limits under the new administrative procedures. This will allow the commission to make changes to the orders at the same meeting in response to public input before publishing final orders. An additional provision enables the commission to close game seasons due to disease epidemics or other extenuating circumstances on an emergency, case-by-case basis.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar introduced LB91, which establishes stronger licensure requirements for geologists practicing in the state. Under the bill, the state Board of Geologists can:
• deny a license to any applicant deemed to have an issue of moral turpitude, a felony conviction, or suspension or revocation of an existing license;
• grant licensure to any out of state geologist with at least 15 years of relevant experience under a reciprocity agreement;
• require continuing education of all license-holders; and
• admit members to the board from any Nebraska college or university.

Senators passed the bill on a 49-0 vote.

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