State climate change action plan proposed

The University of Nebraska would develop a plan to help the state mitigate and adapt to the effects of extreme weather events or climate change under a bill heard Feb. 11 by the Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. John Cavanaugh
Sen. John Cavanaugh

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh, sponsor of LB483, said there is broad consensus among scientists that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. The proposed plan would not mandate specific actions, he said, but would give policymakers a roadmap to mitigate and adapt to the effects of a changing climate.

“Extreme droughts or flooding can take a substantial toll on our farmers and ranchers,” Cavanaugh said. “The climate action plan is a necessary step for our state to confront … changes in climate head on.”

The evidence-based, data-driven strategic action plan would examine the impacts of climate change on agriculture, water resources, health care and public health, energy generation and use, ecosystems and forestry, rural and urban communities, transportation and commerce and industry.

The plan would include a baseline measurement of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, or carbon footprint. It also would assess risks and vulnerabilities from climate change as well as opportunities presented by adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Additionally, it would include measurable benchmarks and goals and provide recommendations for new policies and changes to policies and programs that support those goals.

The plan would be developed with public comment and engagement, input from climate, water and other experts and examination of other states’ strategic action plans.

To pay for the plan, LB483 would direct the state treasurer to transfer $250,000 from the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Collection Fund to the university, which would submit the finished plan to the Legislature and the governor on or before Dec. 15, 2022.

Al Davis testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club. He said the plan would build on a 2014 UNL report assessing the implications of climate change for Nebraska. A 2015 legislative task force voted unanimously to create a climate action plan, Davis said, but it was never developed.

“It’s long past time that this step is accomplished,” he said.

Also in support was John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. He said the University of Nebraska, home to the National Drought Mitigation Center, is well-suited to the task.

“We ought to give them the opportunity to use that expertise to help us put together a plan so that we can minimize the adverse impacts but also take advantage of the opportunities that also come with it,” Hansen said.

Jesse Starita also testified in support of LB483. Although climate change poses many risks, he said, it also presents opportunities in agriculture, energy, transportation and other fields.

“This bill delivers informed choices to our state senators on how to respond to a crisis,” he said. “If that’s not part of good governance, then I don’t know what is.”

Mark Whitehead testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

He said the association does not have an opinion on the plan’s merits — it opposes the proposed cash fund transfer because that money is used to investigate and clean up leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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