January 27, 2015

Senators say Nebraska needs to develop wind energy

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist addresses reporters during news conference with fellow senators looking on

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist addresses reporters during news conference with fellow senators looking on

A group of senators hopes to push through legislation this session that will spur development of renewable energy in Nebraska, especially wind energy.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha is sponsoring a bill that would create a state production tax credit for wind energy.

“It’s important to make investments like this, because an investment in wind power means an investment in jobs, in operations, maintenance, construction, manufacturing, and other potential support sectors,” Nordquist tells reporters at a Capitol news conference.

Nordquist says wind energy production supports between 500 and 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in Nebraska, with a capital investment of $1 billion. The industry made $1.3 million in land-lease payments as well.

The senators say Nebraska lags behind other states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, in the development of wind energy even though Nebraska has some of the greatest potential to turn its high winds into useable energy. They also contend Nebraska law has erected hurdles to clear that just aren’t there in other states.

Other bills will include solar and biomass energy in the mix.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala says he will work on legislation to allow the state’s public power districts to sell excess energy to other states.

“Public power in the state of Nebraska was not built to market power like we’re talking about someplace else around the nation,” according to Schilz.

Schilz says other states, such as Wyoming, have been able to find markets for the energy produced by wind turbines that exceed their needs.


Worries rise over invasive species in Nebraska rivers and lakes

Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussels

Concerns are being raised about Nebraska’s waterways after the recent discovery of invasive mussel species in two South Dakota lakes.

Allison Zach is the Nebraska invasive species program coordinator for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She says both zebra and quagga mussels in South Dakota could mean trouble for Nebraska, especially those found along the border at Lewis and Clark Lake.

“Offutt Air Force Base Lake in Bellevue, Nebraska, has zebra mussels but we do not allow motorized boats on that lake and all of our other water bodies have been negative and we test them yearly for zebra mussels,” Zach says. “So, Lewis and Clark is a concern to us because it is a highly-recreational lake and once you have zebra mussels, it has an effect on property values.”

The Angostura Reservoir in southwest South Dakota was confirmed to have quagga mussels in September and a single adult zebra mussel was found in Lewis and Clark Lake in November.

Zach says the larger quagga mussels pose a bigger threat than the zebra species.

“They filter feed more of the nutrients than the zebra mussel,” Zach says. “They also do not need hard substrates to attach like zebra mussels, so they are more of a concern because they can live on sandy bottoms of lakes. So, Angostura, where they found the larvae of the quagga mussels is a very large concern to us because they are worse.”

She says the two states would both benefit greatly from boat inspection programs.

“It is really important that we get support in South Dakota and Nebraska to get formal boat inspection programs so we can educate people on how to inspect their boats, how to clean, drain and dry them,” Zach says. “That’s how you kill these larvae and protect our water bodies.”

Both species of mussels can reproduce rapidly, clogging pipes and water systems. Lewis and Clark Lake is classified as a “suspect lake” for zebra mussels after the discovery of a single adult mussel and will remain suspect for at least three years.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Keystone XL bill in Congress may bring new court fight, veto

Keystone XL Route

Click on map to enlarge.

Republican leaders in Congress vow to pass legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline as soon as this week.

Jane Kleeb, spokeswoman for BOLD Nebraska, says the pending bill will likely be unconstitutional and its passage won’t accomplish anything.

“Just like Congress votes repeatedly on Obamacare, this is now the 10th time Congress will be voting to approve Keystone XL,” Kleeb says. “It legally means nothing. The bill is on very shaky constitutional ground and the president has already sent signals he would veto such a bill. We’re not worried about the passing of the bill.”

Kleeb says if Congress does pass the measure, it will likely mean a lawsuit, as Keystone XL currently has no legal route in Nebraska or South Dakota.

“Both of those things mean the State Department’s report is not final and it doesn’t meet…national environmental law,” Kleeb says. “The Republicans, in their bill, say the State Department report does meet those legal requirements. That’s one, just one, of the many legal issues with the bill. I say bring it on. If they want to pass this bill, we’d be happy to see them in court.”

Congressional supporters of the pipeline say they don’t believe there’s any significant environmental risk with the project, but Kleeb says that flies in the face of science and history, especially after a recent spill.

“If you just look at the Tar Sands spill in the Kalamazoo River, which has cost over $1-billion and is still not cleaned up, this type of oil sinks. It has many more chemicals,” Kleeb says. “If a spill were to happen in Nebraska in the Sand Hills area in our groundwater, it would have a contamination plume for miles.”

 GOP leaders say the project would create 42,000 jobs, but Democrats say it may be closer to 2,000.

A White House spokesman says he does not expect President Obama to sign any Keystone legislation that reaches his desk. He said legislation should not undermine a well-established review process run by the State Department or circumvent a law still pending in Nebraska over the route.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Public asked to help investigation of illegal cougar kill

The public is being asked to provide information on a cougar shot illegally and left to rot in the Pine Ridge National Forest south of Chadron.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reports a hunter stumbled upon the female mountain lion in Dawes County late last week. The mountain lion is estimated to have been about a year and a half old. It likely was shot either late last month or early this month.

Officials have begun an investigation, which included collecting evidence at the scene.

Anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to call Game and Parks or the Nebraska Wildlife Crime Stoppers at 1-800-742-7627. Hotline callers may remain anonymous and could be eligible for a reward.

Both sides await key Keystone XL court ruling (AUDIO)

TransCanada-Keystone-Pipeline-System-Map-2014-02-25Both those opposed to the Keystone XL project and those who support the oil pipeline await an important decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

A decision by the state Supreme Court could come soon either upholding or striking down state law that approved TransCanada’s route for Keystone XL through Nebraska.

Lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state, rancher Randy Thompson, says he’s just patiently waiting for the process to play out; a process he says he respects.

“We’re prepared to live with whatever decision the Supreme Court comes with,” Thompson tells reporters during a conference call. “I have to say we’re optimistic. We think we have a very strong case.”

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the lawsuit in September. Thompson and three other landowners contend the Unicameral violated the state constitution when it approved the law used to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline route through Nebraska.

The law shifted authority to approve the pipeline route from the Public Service Commission to the governor.

A Lancaster County District judge agreed and ruled the law unconstitutional. The state appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could issue a ruling at any time.

The lawsuit has implications beyond Nebraska.

President Barack Obama has stated he will not move on TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit to build the northern portion of Keystone XL until the legal issues in Nebraska are resolved. The southern portion of the pipeline, from Cushing, OK to refineries along the Gulf Coast, has already been built and is in operation.

The case Thompson, Bold Nebraska, and other opponents have made against Keystone XL go well beyond the courtroom. In fact, Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska asserts that even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the state, Bold Nebraska will press its anti-Keystone XL case with President Obama, urging him to deny the TransCanada permit request.

TransCanada continues to press its case, largely to the public hoping polls that indicate America’s support the pipeline will persuade the president. TransCanada touts the project as a job creator, a boon to rural counties which will derive tax benefits from it, and a major step toward North American oil independence.

Opponents have countered that it would be harmful to the environment, claiming if Keystone XL is denied, Canada will not follow through with extracting crude oil from the oil sands of western Canada. As a possible decision grows closer, claims against Keystone XL have intensified.

According to TransCanada Vice President Corey Goulet some of those claims have left the bounds of reasonable debate.

“I think some of the opposition groups try to provide misinformation and, frankly, sometimes downright lies about the project,” Goulet tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Goulet says TransCanada will push ahead with the project no matter how the Nebraska Supreme Court rules.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]