A Kernel Of Prevention vs A Bushel Of Cure

Not many environmental bills get passed by the Nebraska Legislature or even make it past the Natural Resources Committee to get debated on the floor. Efforts to upgrade net metering policy or address the effects of climate change are routinely proposed and routinely “IPP”d (Indefinitely Postponed).

An exception this year is LB 507 which would ban the use of seed corn treated with insecticides for use in making ethanol. This is in response to the one facility that does that (using seed it gets for free because it didn’t get sold and is surplus), the AltEn plant near Mead, just west of Omaha. The plant has been the subject of complaints by people living in the vicinity since it opened in 2015 and was recently sued by the state government for badly maintained waste lagoons and not disposing of piles of decaying byproduct on its premises.

Then on February 12 a frozen pipe ruptured at the plant releasing pesticide-laden waste to the area. A nearby University research facility found high levels of neonicotinoids (the chemicals responsible for a lot of the population crashes of bees and other insect pollinators) in the escaped wastewater. The ethanol plant is currently shut down and the state will likely be doing investigations into the release. In fact this is not far from a state remediation plant that is cleaning up groundwater from an old armaments factory from WW2. It probably will not surprise anyone if AltEn declares bankruptcy around the time a cleanup plan is announced .

LB507, which was actually introduced (Bostelman, Dist.23) before things came off the tracks at AltEn this winter, is now a Natural Resources priority bill and folded into a committee omnibus bill which also addresses water appropriations and elk hunting on private land. So that means that at a minimum it will get attention and has a very likely chance at being enacted.

One has to wonder though how this plant got approval to operate in the first place. Was there a plan to dispose of this toxic byproduct that wasn’t followed or was there just no plan required or submitted? It’s another lesson that a little care and planning ahead can prevent a lot more trouble down the road. And that is how our state senators should be looking at the climate bills before them, as a small investment in prevention or minimally, in awareness of the evolving situation. LB576 (Bostar) would provide $50K to update the 2014 UNL Climate Assessment and LB483 (Cavanaugh) would direct $250K from the Petroleum Release Remedial Collection Fund (which currently has 11.9 million dollars) to UNL to create a state climate action plan. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting use for that particular fund. These are not yet on anyone’s priority list in the Legislature but they should be on ours as Greens. A letter to someone: the editor, your senator or the committee, would certainly be helpful (576 is in Appropriations, 483 in Natural Resources); since hearings are over go to these bill pages to leave comments online.