Session Review: Natural Resources

Water

The long-term sustainability of the state’s water resources was the primary focus of legislation considered this session by the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.

Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson introduced LB1098, passed 48-0, which creates a Water Sustainability Fund and restructures the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission to better emphasize water sustainability.

It requires that the fund be used to contribute to multiple water supply management goals, fund municipal sewer infrastructure projects, increase water productivity, enhance water quality and comply with interstate compacts or other agreements.

Funds will be distributed equitably throughout the state with no more than 10 percent dedicated annually to sewer infrastructure projects.

Currently, three state Natural Resources Commission members are appointed by the governor and 13 are elected to represent river basins across the state. LB1098 adds 11 members to the commission to be appointed by the governor and represent the following interests:
• agribusiness;
• agriculture;
• ground water irrigators;
• irrigation districts;
• manufacturing;
• metropolitan utilities districts;
• municipal water users;
• outdoor recreation users;
• public power districts;
• range livestock owners;
• surface water irrigators; and
• wildlife conservation.

The bill also incorporates provisions of LB1074, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. It requires the development of a basin-wide plan for basins with three or more natural resources districts operating under an integrated management plan.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will conduct a biennial analysis of the Water Sustainability Fund, beginning in the 2019-2021 biennium.

Provisions of several other bills were incorporated into LB1098, including:
• LB391, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, which adds “downstream” to current statute prohibiting storing water in reservoirs when water is required for direct irrigation;
• LB710, introduced by Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen, which requires that a natural resources district hold a public hearing before entering into a water augmentation project outside district boundaries;
• LB723, introduced by Christensen, which creates subclasses of irrigated cropland for use in the sales comparison approach of land valuation; and
• LB686, introduced by Christensen, which extends the annual deadline from March 1 to June 1 for irrigators to file for an irrigated land occupation tax exemption.

Carlson also introduced LB514, which authorizes the state Department of Environmental Quality to create and regulate a linked deposit program. The program will promote loans for the construction, rehabilitation and enhancement of water pollution control projects.

The bill authorizes a portion of loan funds to be deposited with eligible financial institutions in low-yielding deposit accounts, certificates of deposit or other agreed upon deposits for loans at a rate lower than the prevailing rate.

The department also can buy or refinance debt of municipalities for wastewater treatment works under LB514.

Senators passed the bill on a 44-0 vote.

Carlson introduced LB513, passed 43-0, which reduced from 10 to three the number of days required before a natural resources district (NRD) can issue a cease and desist order under the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act.

Cortland Sen. Norm Wallman introduced LB856, which would have required any person who withdraws ground water for hydraulic fracturing stimulation to install a meter to measure the water used for the stimulation and the fracturing fluid recovered.

The bill would have required submission of an annual report of the measurements to the state Department of Natural Resources.

LB856 did not advance from committee.

Wildlife management

Senators declined to override a gubernatorial veto of a bill that would have prohibited the hunting of mountain lions.

Senators originally passed LB671, introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, March 24 on a 28-13 vote. The bill would have repealed a law passed in 2012 that authorized the state Game and Parks Commission to hold a mountain lion hunting season.

In his veto letter, Gov. Dave Heineman said the bill could be challenged as infringing upon Article XV, Section 25 of the Nebraska Constitution, which establishes that “hunting, fishing and harvesting of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Senators voted 24-21 on the motion to override, six votes short of the number required. Senators later approved a Chambers motion to reconsider the vote 30-17, but the vote to pass the bill notwithstanding the objections of the governor failed again on a 28-21 vote.

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson introduced LB699, passed 43-0, which allows a person with developmental disabilities to purchase a hunting permit after securing a license-purchase exemption certificate issued by the state Game and Parks Commission.

Applicants for an exemption certificate will be required to provide a written note from their physician indicating that the person is at all times capable of understanding and following directions given by another person and that he or she is not currently a danger to himself, herself or others.

The bill also consolidates current hunter education programs to form one program covering all hunting implements including firearms, crossbows, bows and arrows and air guns. Those applying for bow hunter permits will be required to take additional bow hunter education programming.

Energy production

LB402, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, will allow more wind projects to qualify for a wind energy sales tax exemption.

Currently, private wind energy projects can 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 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.

LB402 amends the current statute by:
• reducing the qualifying percentage threshold from 33 percent to 25 percent;
• loosening corporate restrictions by allowing corporations domiciled in Nebraska to meet the definition of “qualified owner;” and
• 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.

Senators passed the bill on a 43-0 vote.

Davis introduced LB1115, adopted 47-0, which appropriates $200,000 from the General Fund to study existing and future state, regional and national transmission infrastructure and policy.

The bill also establishes a working group, including five members of the Legislature, which will provide input to the board. A report detailing the results of the study will be provided to the governor by Dec. 15, 2014.

Senators gave unanimous consent to bracket LB965, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, which would have required the Nebraska Power Review Board to broaden its public purpose evaluation.

The bill would have required the review board to consider additional costs and benefits to consumers in addition to cost, feasibility, convenience and necessity.

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