May 25, 2015

Activist group polls members for direction following pipeline battle

Pipeline2Leaders of the group BOLD Nebraska vow to continue fighting the approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Director Jane Kleeb says they’re now surveying members to find out what direction they want the group to go in their opposition to the pipeline.

“We don’t have the final rejection yet although we are hoping it’s going to be coming in the next couple of months,” Kleeb says. “We really are curious to hear from our members what folks want us to be working on next.”

Kleeb says the main focus continues to be supporting farmers and ranchers and they want to find out if they should expand their reach into other issues beyond clean energy and the environment, things that might include immigration and same-sex marriage. She says the initial response to the survey has been good.

Kleeb says, “Within the first 24 hours, we had over 500 surveys already completed which was just amazing and a testament to the broad reach and the relationship BOLD Nebraska has with our supporters.”

TransCanada proposed building the $8-billion pipeline to carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil produced from the oil sands of Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.

The southern portion of Keystone XL, from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast is already operating. The northern portion would connect Keystone XL with the existing Keystone pipeline that runs from Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton

Mountain lion shot and killed in Omaha

Photo by Omaha Officer Sherry Gooley, posted to Twitter

Photo by Omaha Officer Sherry Gooley, posted to Twitter

A wounded mountain lion found in Omaha Wednesday afternoon has been shot and killed by police.

Omaha police report the adult mountain lion was spotted near Project Harmony in west Omaha.

Officers used shotguns to kill the cougar. No one was injured.

Police responded to a call about the cougar at 5pm. The Nebraska Humane Society and a veterinarian responded as well.

The Nebraska Games and Parks Commission reports the male mountain lion weighed about 120 pounds. It couldn’t move due to a broken leg. It isn’t clear how long the cougar had been in the area.

Game and Parks reports its protocol is to euthanize mountain lions found in cities. Game and Parks says attempts to use tranquilizers to relocate mountain lions can become dangerous, because no one can predict how the animal will react.

“Our mountain lion response plan calls for cougars in town to be euthanized if it can safely be done, out of safety considerations for the people in the city,” said Craig Stover, Law Enforcement Administrator for Nebraska Game and Parks, in a written statement released by Game and Parks.

The lion is in possession of Nebraska Game and Parks. A necropsy will be performed.

Game and Parks says the mountain lions in Nebraska are part of a larger cougar population throughout the western states and can roam freely from state to state, particularly from Nebraska to South Dakota and Wyoming.



Nebraska bat designated by feds as “threatened”

A bat with white nose syndrome

A bat with white nose syndrome

Federal officials are now designating a type of bat that lives in Nebraska as a threatened species, because a fungal disease is wiping out large populations of the furry, flying creatures.

Kristen Lundh, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the northern long-eared bat will have new protections in Nebraska and 25 other states under the “threatened” designation.

“A species that is endangered is defined as any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” Lundh says. “A species that is threatened is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”

Bats in Nebraska are falling victim to a disease called white nose syndrome, a disease that actually makes their muzzles turn white.

“Bats with white nose syndrome act strangely,” Lundh says. “They fly around outside in the winter when they’re supposed to be hibernating. In studies of bats with white nose syndrome, researchers have found that they have depleted most of their fat stores by mid-winter and they get really severe wing damage that shows up when we capture them during the summer.”

It’s difficult to determine how many bats in Nebraska are being impacted by the disease and more bat counts will be done this year. Some aspects of the disease remain a mystery.

Lundh says, “We don’t really know what the exact process by which white nose syndrome leads to the death of infected bats, but we do know the fungus, where it’s infected bats, is responsible for very large-scale mortality.”

More than 6-million bats of multiple species have been killed by white-nose syndrome since it was first documented in the U.S. in 2006.

Lundh notes, bats are particularly beneficial to an agricultural state like Nebraska as they’ll eat all sorts of insects that would otherwise damage crops, in addition to bugs that bug people. Some bats will eat a thousand mosquitoes per night.


Ag Director worries environmental, not health, concerns swaying dietary guidelines

Hereford_cattle_herdState Agriculture Director Greg Ibach worries environmental concerns are creeping into the dietary recommendations made by the federal government.

The United States Department of Agriculture is preparing its latest dietary guidelines and this time environmentalists are pressuring the USDA to recommend eating less red meat to reduce the carbon footprint of the cattle industry.

Ibach says there is no reason to reduce consumption of red meat for health reasons.

“The same message we’ve had for years that red meat can be a part of a healthy diet,” Ibach tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “You just have to follow the proper guidelines, pay attention to your portion size, and if you’re especially concerned about the fat in your diet, you pick leaner cuts.”

A panel that makes recommendations for the federal dietary guidelines has suggested sustainability of the environment should be considered in their make-up. Some argue the beef industry has too large a carbon footprint and needs to be scaled back.

Ibach has written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, arguing that sustainability has no place in the dietary guidelines which should be solely directed at providing consumers with scientific-based dietary information.

Ibach contends the recommendations could eventually reflect more environmental concerns than dietary concerns.

“I think if you look closely at the recommendations they made, they really didn’t change their recommendations for red meat overall,” Ibach says. “They came in with a sustainability statement that then confused consumers.”

The USDA updates its dietary guidelines every five years.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.

NPPD announces coal-fire power plant conversion to hydrogen

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

It could be the fuel of the future.

Nebraska Public Power District has announced it is working with California-based Monolith Materials to replace a coal-fired unit in southeast Nebraska with a hydrogen-fueled plant.

NPPD Chief Executive Officer Pat Pope says Monolith Materials will use natural gas and electricity to create a substance called carbon black.

“Will eventually lead to near zero carbon emissions and Sheldon Station will become the first utility-scale power plant in the country to use hydrogen as a fuel,” according to Pope.

The new power plant will replace one of two coal-fired plants at the Sheldon Station near Hallam.

Gov. Pete Ricketts praises the project as a huge step forward in how electricity is produced in Nebraska.

“We here in Nebraska, with the welcoming of Monolith Materials, will be able to expand the types of products we produce here,” Ricketts says.

Monolith Materials co-founder, Rob Hanson, says the new plant will produce a substance called carbon black.

“We take natural gas. Natural gas is made up of carbon and hydrogen. We have technology which takes the carbon out in the form of carbon black. The hydrogen passes on and is going to be used by Sheldon Station to generate 125 megawatts of clean electricity,” according to Hanson.

Hanson says carbon black, a fine powder, is used in a number of products, such as tires, batteries, ink, electronics and plastics.

Hanson says the investment in southeast Nebraska will total in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars, creating 100 new direct jobs and as many as 600 indirect jobs. He says the company began looking at sites across the U.S. over the past 18 months, narrowing sites to Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Wyoming, Washington State, New York, Louisiana and Alberta, Canada.

Hanson says the plant should begin producing carbon black by next year with full hydrogen fuel operations slated to begin in 2019.

Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this report.