December 21, 2014

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]

Sen. Fischer says EPA ozone proposal would harm economy (AUDIO)

Ozone-Page-Header[1]Sen. Deb Fischer says a new proposed regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency could drastically harm Nebraska’s economy.

Fisher objects to the EPA proposal to reduce allowable concentrations of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65-and-70.

She says it’s not a minor adjustment.

“It is startling what this does,” according to Fischer. “It is the most expensive regulation that has ever been proposed.”

The Obama Administration is considering an even lower threshold. The EPA has invited comments on a proposed to lower the standard to 60 parts per billion.

Fischer, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, contends the change would require manufacturers to install expensive equipment to control the ozone, or limit production, or buy “offsets.”

Fischer objects not only to the proposed regulation, but how the Obama Administration is handling it.

“This is something, once again, that we see come out through regulations without, I believe, the proper debate taking place and really looking at the consequences of these regulations,” Fischer says.

A similar proposal floated in 2011 was estimated to cost businesses and utilities $90 billion a year.

Click here for EPA Ozone maps.

Click here for National Association of Manufacturers take on proposed regulation.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

“Precycling” can help reduce waste amidst the holiday frenzy

GiftsThe holiday song says this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s also the most wasteful. Trash generated by the average Nebraska household rises 25% during the holidays, but with some planning before shopping, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Leslie Irlbeck, a waste management specialist, says to “pre-cycle” or consider how those gifts will end up.

“We’re encouraging people to think about the gifts they buy,” Irlbeck says. “Eventually, will they be recycled, will they be re-used or will they end up in the landfill? The same concept should be used when you’re thinking about how to package and wrap those gifts this season as well.”

Parents may sometimes go overboard on gifts for younger kids, so Irlbeck says a little forethought can go a long ways.

“Remove a lot of the packaging that goes in our stockings,” Irlbeck says. “A lot of times, there’s cardboard boxes that are part of those gifts. If you unpack the gift before you stuff the stockings, you can recycle them up front and then you don’t have to worry about the madness of the day itself and trying to sort through the garbage from the recyclables.”

While studies find the amount of garbage generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day bounds by 25%, she says Nebraskans can reverse the trend with a little effort.

“As you’re unwrapping gifts, a lot of things are recyclable,” Irlbeck says. “A lot of the cardboard boxes we use, those are all recyclable and wrapping paper itself. When you head to the store, try and purchase wrapping paper that can be recycled. That means buying the plain wrapping paper and even cards that we send that don’t have glitter, they’re not metallic, they’re just plain paper and those can all be recycled.”

Old garland should go in the trash, not the recycling bin, and she says the same is true for strands of Christmas lights — while they’re metal, glass and plastic, they’re not recyclable.

For Nebraskans with live Christmas trees, many communities offer post-holiday recycling programs so they can be mulched.

NPPD: Sand Hills high-voltage line to “benefit all of our customers” (AUDIO)

Sand Hills, Loup County (UNL photo)

Sand Hills, Loup County (UNL photo)

Officials say the high-voltage electrical transmission line that’s proposed to cut through 220 miles of Nebraska’s Sand Hills region is designed to have a positive impact on the entire state’s power infrastructure.

Mark Becker, spokesman for Nebraska Public Power District, says the upgrade is needed, not because there isn’t enough power but because the current lines can’t carry what’s needed during times of high demand.

“That will benefit all of our customers throughout the state,” Becker says. “It will be another way for electricity to get out to the load centers. We’ve had ice storms in the past that have basically cut off our power lines and we’ve been forced then to buy electicity out of the market at a higher price than what it costs us to generate.”

Some residents in the Sand Hills have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the $350-million project. Becker says NPPD is planning to build sturdy piers in key locations that would eliminate the need to haul in large cranes or heavy cement trucks.

“These would be basically screwed into the ground, 60 to 70 feet, and then we would helicopter in the structures piece by piece,” Becker says. “We want to reduce the amount of damage that would be done during this construction process.”

The Sand Hills region is a “fragile” environment, Becker says, and there will be an impact with this massive project.

“We’re looking at every possible way to minimize that impact,” Becker says. “We’re also working with the University of Nebraska to look at ways for how do we bring the Sand Hills back from any kind of damage we do create.”

The transmission line project is expected to cost more than $350-million, but Becker says Nebraska customers will only be paying for about 7% of that cost. The rest, he says, would be shared by other utilities across the region that are part of the Southwest Power Pool.

The transmission line’s route is still in the “proposal phase,” and the project is in the midst of a 30-day public comment period which runs through mid-December. NPPD has already held 18 open houses on the project across the Sand Hills region and it’s been approved by the Nebraska Power Review Board.

AUDIO: Full interview with NPPD’s Mark Becker 4:45