Session Review: Natural Resources
Bills authorizing public power utilities to withhold certain records and reducing the impact of streamflow augmentation projects on county tax rolls were among those advanced by the Natural Resources Committee this session.
LB1008, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman and passed 42-4, increases the amounts of liquidated damages for a person who illegally sells, purchases, takes or possesses certain wildlife.
It increases damages for:
• mountain sheep from $15,000 to $25,000;
• elk with a minimum of 12 points from $5,000 to $10,000 and from $1,500 to $3,000 for all other elk;
• whitetail deer with a minimum of eight points and a spread between beams of at least 16 inches from $5,000 to $10,000;
• all other antlered whitetail deer from $1,000 to $2,000;
• antlerless whitetail deer and whitetail doe deer from $250 to $500;
• mule deer with a minimum of eight total points and a spread between beams of at least 22 inches from $5,000 to $10,000 and for all other mule deer from $1,000 to $2,000;
• mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, river otters or raw pelt from $500 to $5,000; and
• wild turkeys from $100 to $500.
The bill includes provisions of four other bills heard by the committee this session.
LB713, introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, increases pay for those serving on the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and natural gas exploration and production industry. It raises the per diem for commissioners from $50 to $400 and increases the annual pay cap from $2,000 to $4,000.
LB762, sponsored by Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, extends the sunset date for the state’s scrap tire grant program from 2019 to 2024.
LB820, introduced by Hughes, authorizes the Nebraska Power Review Board—which authorizes and oversees electricity generation and transmission facilities in the state—to assess a $500 fine on a private electric supplier that begins construction on a renewable energy generation facility less than 30 days before notifying the board of its intent.
Also introduced by Hughes is LB822, which the committee replaced with an amendment authorizing the public power industry and the Nebraska Power Review Board to withhold competitive or proprietary information that would give an advantage to business competitors.
The bill defines such information as that which “a reasonable person, knowledgeable of the electric utility industry, could conclude gives an advantage to business competitors.”
The committee advanced a bill addressing the loss of property tax revenue to counties due to the Rock Creek augmentation project and the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project. Both projects help the state meet streamflow requirements under the 2003 Republican River Compact, which allocates the use of surface water among Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska.
LB758, introduced by Hughes and passed 45-0, authorizes state natural resources districts and interlocal entities that buy land for the development of a streamflow augmentation project to make voluntary payments in lieu of property taxes to the county where the project is located.
The amount of the payments may not exceed the property taxes that would have been paid if the land were subject to taxation.
The bill requires NRDs or joint entities that acquire private land for the purpose of developing and operating a streamflow augmentation project to give public notice of the project that includes an estimate of the amount of water to be pumped and the project’s timeframe.
It also requires a public hearing on the project and the input of county officials and adjoining landowners on ways to mitigate the project’s effects on the county.
Additionally, NRDs and interlocal entities are required to publish an annual report on the project’s finances and activities, including the amount of water pumped and the revenue gained from land leases. NRDs and interlocal entities must submit a lease to the county assessor within 30 days after the lease’s effective date.
A bill that would have restored state-level regulatory requirements for wind energy generation facilities in Nebraska did not advance from committee.
A law passed by the Legislature in 2016 exempted private renewable energy generation facilities from certain laws that regulate electricity generating facilities. LB1054, introduced by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would have removed wind energy from the list of facilities exempted.
The committee also did not advance a bill that would have allowed scrap tires to be used as walls in single-family houses.
LB908, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Roy Baker, would have modified state law so that tires could be used in a building system and filled with earth as permanent forms for walls in a single-family dwelling. The builder would have been required to obtain prior approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Current law permits the use of scrap tires if they are processed into material for artificial turf, playground surfaces and residential and garden applications, among other uses.