Session Review: Natural Resources

Water funding, oil pipelines and park fees were among the issues tackled by the Natural Resources Committee in 2011.

Environmental Trust

LB229, introduced by Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer and passed 39-5, requires the state Department of Natural Resources to submit an application to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund for a three-year, $9.9 million grant for water management actions taken to reduce consumptive uses of water, enhance stream flows, recharge groundwater or support wildlife habitats in fully appropriated or overappropriated river basins.

The application will be awarded 50 points in the project ranking process if the Legislature provides matching $3.3 million annual appropriations for three years. Funds will be transferred to the Water Resources Cash Fund. The bill also directs the department to apply to the trust for another three-year grant if certain criteria are met.

A legislative resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to reduce funding to the trust was held in committee.

LR51CA, introduced by Elk Creek Sen. Lavon Heidemann, would discontinue the distribution of lottery money to the fund if approved by voters during the 2012 general election. Under the proposal, funds would be redirected to support Nebraska Innovation Campus and the Water Resources Cash Fund.

Oil pipeline

The committee considered three bills dealing with oil pipelines this session.

The proposal that was advanced by the committee and approved by the Legislature 47-0 was introduced by Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan.

LB629 requires pipeline companies to restore land disturbed during the construction or operation of an interstate oil pipeline. Restoration costs covered include those incurred to rehabilitate real and personal property, natural resources, wildlife and vegetation.

The bill also permits local governments and state agencies to pursue compensation from a pipeline company to pay for maintenance and repair of roads, bridges or other infrastructure affected by pipeline construction and operation.

LB340, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas and held in committee, would require companies planning to operate a hazardous liquid pipeline to submit an application to the Public Service Commission (PSC). The application would include a description of the pipeline’s route, the hazardous liquid transported and the number of employees needed to construct and operate the pipeline. The application also would require an environmental impact study and justification for the pipeline route.

The PSC would hold a public hearing within 30 days after receipt of an application. The PSC would evaluate whether the pipeline is in the public interest by examining the pipeline carrier’s compliance with state laws and regulations, safety measures and the environmental, economic and social impacts of the pipeline. Projects receiving PSC approval would be granted eminent domain powers.

LB578, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar and also held in committee, would require a pipeline company to provide a surety or other form of financial assurance to cover the costs associated with a decommissioned pipeline or leak. The PSC would be granted regulatory authority to determine the amount of financial assurance. The bill also would permit local governments to require a greater surety or bond.

State parks

Park fees and boating education requirements were increased by legislation considered by the committee, effective Jan. 1, 2012.

Lawmakers overrode a veto 42-5 to enact a bill that authorizes the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to increase park entry permit fees. LB421, introduced by Louisville Sen. Dave Pankonin, will increase the maximum annual entry permit fee from $20 to $25 for resident motor vehicles and from $25 to $30 for nonresident motor vehicles. The maximum fee also will increase from $4 to $5 for temporary resident entry permits and from $5 to $6 for nonresidents.

Under LB105, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz and passed 41-2, individuals born after Dec. 31, 1985, will be required to complete a boating safety education course before operating a boat on state waters.

Senators also passed legislation to create a conservation program for at-risk youth. LB549, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council and approved 44-0, creates the Nebraska Youth Conservation Program to be administered by Game and Parks. The program will employ at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 21 to contribute to projects that conserve or develop natural resources and enhance land and water under the commission’s jurisdiction.

Special effort will be given to select youth who reside in rural and urban high-poverty areas. Program participants will be paid at least minimum wage.

The committee held a proposal that would create a program to control aquatic invasive species. LB392, introduced by Schilz, would create the Aquatic Invasive Species Program, administered by Game and Parks. The program would authorize the commission to monitor state waters for aquatic invasive species and decontaminate motor vehicles, trailers, boats and other vessels that could convey such species.

Other bills

Legislation introduced by Hastings Sen. Dennis Utter recognizes mid-sized electric generation facilities owned by municipalities as separate air pollution emitters. Under the Nebraska Clean Air Act, facilities that produce certain emissions are required to pay a per ton fee to the state Department of Environmental Quality. There are two caps on emission fees paid: 400 tons for mid-sized electric generating facilities and 4,000 tons for large facilities.

LB156, passed 46-0, expands the definition of mid-sized electric generating facility so facilities that are permitted with another general unit larger than 115 megawatts under separate ownership are considered a separate emission source for the purpose of paying emission fees.

Finally, the committee advanced a proposal to protect the right to hunt and fish in the state constitution. If approved by the Legislature, LR40CA, introduced by Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, would submit to Nebraska voters during the 2012 general election an amendment to declare that the right to hunt and fish be subject only to laws, rules and regulations that preserve the future of hunting and fishing and promote wildlife conservation and management. The constitutional amendment also would declare public hunting and fishing as a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife and could not be construed to modify laws addressing trespassing or property rights.

The resolution remains on select file.

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