Additional authority for environmental regulator proposed

The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Feb. 3 on a bill intended to give a state agency the ability to respond more quickly to the release of pollution.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman
Sen. Bruce Bostelman

LB1102, introduced by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, would authorize the director of the state Department of Environment and Energy to issue an order requiring a person responsible for releasing a pollutant to clean it up or to take action to clean it up if the responsible person fails or refuses to do so.

If the state responds to a release, the responsible person would be liable to the state for its cleanup costs, Bostelman said, which would become a lien on any real property owned by the responsible person and subject to or affected by the cleanup.

“This bill helps to ensure that responsible parties pay for cleanups rather than Nebraska taxpayers,” he said.

LB1102 also would authorize the director to issue a cease and desist order if the director finds that any person has performed or failed to perform any act that presents harm to the environment.

Jim Macy, director of the department, testified in support of the bill. He said cease and desist orders are intended to be used against “bad actors” whose current practices break the law and pose a substantial risk of harm to the environment.

“The cease and desist order is one way to put a quick stop to ongoing significant pollution events and order compliance actions that may continue beyond abating the immediate emergency,” Macy said.

Al Davis testified in support of LB1102 on behalf of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club. He said the Sierra Club supports the bill’s framework but questions whether it would prevent a future release of pollution like the one at the AltEn ethanol plant near Mead.

Davis said the proposal would give the director “significant latitude” to regulate releases of pollution but would not require the director to take action against a violator.

“The use of permissive language causes a lack of trust among the environmental community because we have seen NDEE drag their feet and slow-walk compliance at AltEn and elsewhere,” he said.

Amy Svoboda testified in opposition to the bill. She said it contains a “good framework” but needs several changes to ensure that the department can respond effectively to releases of pollutants.

Among those are a clearer cleanup standard and a more precise definition of who is responsible for a release, Svoboda said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB1102.

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