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Additional authority for environmental regulator proposed – Unicameral Update

Additional authority for environmental regulator proposed – Unicameral Update

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The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Feb. 3 on a bill intended to give a state agency the ability to respond more quickly to the release of pollution.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman

LB1102, introduced by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, would authorize the director of the state Department of Environment and Energy to issue an order requiring a person responsible for releasing a pollutant to clean it up or to take action to clean it up if the responsible person fails or refuses to do so.

Bostelman stated, “If the state responds to a request for release, the responsible individual would be liable for the state’s cleanup costs.” This would become a lien against any real property owned or affected by the cleanup.

He stated that this bill is designed to ensure that responsible parties are responsible for paying for cleanups, rather than Nebraska taxpayers.

LB1102 would also authorize the director, upon finding that any person has committed or failed to commit any act that could cause harm to the environment, to issue a cease & desist order.

Jim Macy was the director of department and testified in support. He stated that cease and desist orders can be used against bad actors who are breaking the law or posing a significant risk to the environment.

Macy stated that the cease and desist order can be used to quickly stop ongoing significant pollution events and to order compliance actions that may go beyond the immediate emergency.

Al Davis testified on behalf of the Nebraska Sierra Club chapter in support of LB1102. He stated that the Sierra Club supports the bill framework, but questioned whether it would prevent future releases of pollution like the one at AltEn ethanol plants near Mead.

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Davis said that the proposal would give the director a lot of latitude to regulate pollution, but it would not require him to take any action against anyone who violates.

He said that permissive language creates distrust in the environmental community as we have seen NDEE slow-walk compliance at AltEn, and elsewhere.

Amy Svoboda opposed the bill. She stated that while the bill contains a solid framework, it needs to be modified to ensure that the department can effectively respond to pollution releases.

Svoboda indicated that these include a clearer cleanup policy and a more precise description of who is responsible.

The committee did not immediately take any action on LB1102.

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