Session Review: Natural Resources

Legislation clarifying oil pipeline regulations as well as the protection and management of the state’s water and wildlife resources was passed this session.

LB1161, sponsored by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith, makes changes to law enacted during the November 2011 special session to regulate oil pipeline routing in Nebraska.

Under LB1161, a pipeline carrier wishing to construct a major oil pipeline after the effective date of the bill must apply for approval from the governor under the provisions of LB4 passed during the special session.

The governor may approve the application or refer it to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for further review under the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act.

Among other provisions, the bill also requires:
• the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to hold at least one public hearing on an application under review by the department;
• a carrier to reimburse DEQ for the cost of an evaluation within 60 days after notification of the cost;
• the PSC to make public any documents or records relating to a major oil pipeline unless federal law provides otherwise; and
• that a carrier’s eminent domain rights be terminated if they remain unused two years after approval of a pipeline application.

The bill passed on a 44-5 vote and takes effect immediately.

Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan introduced LB845, passed 46-0, which strengthens requirements currently outlined in the Oil Pipeline Reclamation Act.

The bill requires that:
• genetically appropriate and locally adapted native plant materials and seeds be used based on site characteristics and vegetation as determined by a preconstruction site inventory;
• final grading, topsoil replacement, installation of erosion control structures, seeding and mulching be completed within 30 days of backfill except when weather conditions, extenuating circumstances or unforeseen developments prevent it;
• all reclamation including choice of seed mixes, method of reseeding, weed and erosion control measures and monitoring be conducted in accordance with the Federal Seed Act, the Nebraska Seed Law and the Noxious Weed Control Act; and
• mulch be installed as required by site contours, seeding methods and weather conditions or when requested by a landowner.

The bill takes effect immediately.

An economic development rate on electricity was provided for new and expanding businesses.

LB1043, introduced by Schuyler Sen. Chris Langemeier, provides the rate for five years to encourage new businesses to move to the state. The rate also applies to local businesses expanding their operations.

The bill passed 48-0 and takes effect immediately.

Ellsworth Sen. LeRoy Louden sponsored LB498, passed 49-0, that establishes regulations related specifically to in-situ mining, which is a method of extracting uranium deposits from underground. The bill allows for a permit amendment to increase the daily peak withdrawal or annual volume to levels authorized under a DEQ permit.

Imperial Sen. Mark Christensen introduced LB950, passed 47-0, which directs the state treasurer to transfer $1.4 million from the general fund to the Water Resources Cash Fund by June 30, 2013.

Christensen also introduced LB1125, which allows landowners with nonirrigated land along the Republican River to receive a refund of incorrectly levied taxes.

Under the bill, any acre that is enrolled in a local, state or federal temporary irrigation retirement program that prohibits the application of irrigation water is exempt from the occupation tax levied during that year.

Any landowner who has been incorrectly taxed may present evidence of nonirrigation to the natural resource district within 12 months after the tax has been levied. The refund will sunset on Oct 1, 2012.

Senators passed the bill on a 49-0 vote.

Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch introduced LR40CA, passed on a 41-3 vote, which allows voters to amend the state constitution to establish that the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife is subject only to laws, rules and regulations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and the promotion of wildlife conservation and management.

The proposed amendment will be placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. If adopted by voters, the constitutional amendment would declare public hunting and fishing as the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

LB928, introduced by Louden, authorizes the state Game and Parks Commission to issue permits by random drawing to eligible applicants. The bill also contains provisions from LB1163, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, that allow hunters to harvest and donate deer to a food-assistance program for people in need.

Senators passed the bill on a 49-0 vote.

The state Game and Parks Commission will transfer ownership of two state recreation areas under bills passed by senators this session.

LB849, introduced by Sullivan and passed 46-0, transfers ownership of the Pibel Lake State Recreation Area to the Lower Loup Natural Resources District.

Christensen introduced LB739, passed on a 45-0 vote, which transfers ownership of the Champion Mill State Historical Park and Champion Lake State Recreation Area to Chase County.

Both ownership transfers take effect immediately.

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