A Vote for Conservation

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By Johnathan Hladik

We’ve come a long way since Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson organized the first Earth Day in 1970, providing a tangible starting point for the modern environmental movement while developing a framework for action that we adhere to even now. We’ve come a long way since he first recognized that this framework requires equal elements of both education and activism, necessitates dedication and commitment and employs a brand of foresight and selflessness that is unique in modern society.

We’ve come a long way since Sen. Nelson argued that the ultimate test of man’s conscience is his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

It’s equally true that not much has changed. We’re faced with many of the same issues: the loss of biodiversity, the need to conserve both land and water, the necessity of creating and implementing alternative energy sources. And to these issues, we are, unfortunately, trying to get improved results with the same methods: moderate activism, token fundraising and education initiatives that increase awareness but often fail to inspire action.

We’ve made progress, but we’re not where we need to be. It’s time to take a stand—time for a concerted, concentrated effort to make the difference we know we can make.

It’s time to support legislators who understand that requiring Nebraska electric utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their power through renewable energy sources, such as wind, biomass and solar, is critical to create jobs and to move toward a green economy. It’s time to recognize individuals who realize that sustainable agriculture and a sustainable local food system are key components in improving our rural economies. It’s time to vote for candidates who have a demonstrated commitment to the conservation of our natural lands and water, and who appreciate that a budget shortfall is not an exploitable opportunity to divert funds from programs and agencies charged with the preservation of these resources.

It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable and to apprise candidates of our priorities so they can leave a legacy our children will be proud of. It’s time to vote not only for a better present but a better future for Nebraskans.

The Nebraska League of Conservation Voters (NLCV) recognizes that the democratic political process is the most direct and most efficient route to change. We understand that in a democracy, your vote matters more than anything else—that nothing is more powerful. We believe that to truly protect Nebraska’s natural heritage, we can’t afford to ignore politics. “The Good Life” for future generations depends on the action we take today as engaged citizens who care about the health and well-being of our natural environment.

The NLCV is a membership organization that depends entirely on the contribution and participation of informed citizens. While conservation-minded nonprofit, nonpartisan state advocacy organizations exist throughout the state, the NLCV stands out as both uniquely capable and uniquely effective. NLCV is a 501(c)4 nonprofit, so we can actively lobby the legislature. Our sister organization, the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, is a 501(c)3 organization that focuses on public education about critical conservation issues. The NLCV Political Action Committee directs contributions from our members to support candidates for office. The vast majority of nonprofit organizations do not have the ability to actively participate in the political process. Through the NLCV PAC, we do.

Our work begins with educating voters. We accomplish this with quarterly newsletters informing the public of legislative bills, land and resource conservation initiatives across Nebraska and resources for promoting environmental stewardship within the community.

The second step is to help elect pro-conservation leaders who will work hard to keep our air and water healthy, our farms and wildlife protected. Our nonpartisan Political Action Committee endorses and provides funding and volunteers to strong pro-conservation candidates who we’re confident will protect Nebraska’s natural resources once elected.

Next, the NLCV holds officials accountable by publishing a voters’ guide and legislative scorecard that disseminates elected officials’ voting records on bills pertaining to conservation issues throughout the state. Voters can use these essential tools to separate pro-conservation leaders from those who pretend to be.

Finally, the NLCV turns environmental values into public policy by educating elected officials and their constituents on environmental issues while lobbying on behalf of reasonable, commonsense conservation measures.

During the 101st legislative session, 13 bills directly involving conservation issues throughout the state were passed into law. These are only a few of the bills the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters followed throughout the legislative session. For a full list of bills, descriptions and voting records, download our Legislative Scorecard located online at www.nlcv.org or request one by mail by calling (402) 438-9341.

The first bill, LB 263, would prohibit local governments from regulating the registration, sale, labeling or distribution of seeds, fertilizers or soil conditioners. We did not support this bill because we believe that these decisions should be made by individual communities, which alone should have the power to protect organic and low-chemical farmers from practices that contaminate their crops and livestock, as well as the soil and water on which they depend. However, 44 of our state senators voted in favor of this bill.

LB 689 would prevent the transfer of corn checkoff funds to the Water Resources Cash Fund, an important resource in reducing water use in the Platte and Republican River basins. Because this bill would make it considerably more difficult to restore river flows needed for both wildlife and recreation, we opposed LB 689. However, 41 Nebraska senators voted in favor of the bill, making it difficult to adequately protect the sanctity of our river flows.

LB 1048 encourages and allows opportunities for private entities to develop, own and operate renewable energy facilities by streamlining the process for wind farm development. LB 1048 will allow private entities who export energy to escape the eminent domain power of the Nebraska public power system while creating a consistent and increasing stream of tax revenue for our local governments. An accompanying amendment would allow the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to retain its ability to review proposed wind farm developments in order to ensure that a new site will not adversely affect wildlife. NLCV supports both this bill and the associated amendment, which creates incentives to further explore wind power development throughout the state. While this bill is one of the crowning achievements of the 101st legislature, it is important to note that this bill is only the first step in adequately capitalizing on the wind-energy production capacity in Nebraska. We need to encourage our senators to continue to support renewable energy production for use in Nebraska, not just for export.

LB 997 would require an energy element as part of an already required comprehensive plan. This additional element would assess energy use by sector, evaluate the use of renewable energy sources and promote energy conservation measures. NLCV supports this bill because, like LB 978, it encourages both energy efficiency and energy conservation—vital attributes as we seek to protect both our environment and our pocketbook. Still, eight of our state senators failed to vote for this commonsense, pro-conservation bill.

LB 436 would require electric utilities to facilitate a process called “net metering.” Net metering allows the owner of a renewable energy production system to receive a retail credit for any energy produced in excess of what they are able to consume privately. This excess is transferred to the public utility where it is then distributed to the utility’s regular customers. NLCV supported this bill as a crucial step toward making the generation of renewable energy both affordable to the home or small business owner. Again, the passage of this bill should be hailed as an environmental victory, but we must recognize that more needs to be done to encourage property owners to invest in renewable energy systems.

LB 246 will not only reauthorize the Biopower Steering Committee but also expand its scope. This bill requires that the committee coordinate and plan a baseline study in order to better understand the potential role for renewable energy in Nebraska, and provides guaranteed funding to do so. NLCV supports further exploration of this valuable resource, and LB 246 will achieve just that. However, 13 of our state senators failed to vote in favor of this bill.

Tracking in-session voting is only part of our work, however. Each election cycle, the NLCV endorses candidates for state offices based on how closely the candidate’s environmental and con­- servation-based values align with the NLCV’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session. These endorsements are determined in large part by candidates’ responses to a questionnaire we create before the election, as opposed to the voting record of any incumbent. The NLCV may request an interview with candidates if we are unable to clearly identify a candidate’s position or if the positions of the candidates are very similar.

The questionnaire and accompanying interview touch on issues currently important to Nebraskans, as well as those we expect to become relevant during the upcoming session. Our endorsements are then released statewide to local media outlets, announced to members of our organization, published online and sent to NLCV members and allied organizations in the month prior to the election. We have listed the NLCV’s candidate endorsements in an ad located in this edition of Prairie Fire as well as on our website at www.nlcv.org.

Our goal is to foster an educated, informed citizenry that will participate in the political process to effect change in the most direct way possible. This leads to an environment of accountability and permeates the halls of the Unicameral as our legislators work to truly represent their respective constituents.

Remember, though, that knowing where your legislators and candidates stand on conservation issues is only the first step. It is now up to you to share this information with family, friends, co-workers, anyone who cares about “the good life” and the state of Nebraska. You have a responsibility to let your senators know that they are doing a good job or that they need to put Nebraska’s water, land, wildlife and resources at the top of their list of priorities. Let your voice be heard when it comes time to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

 

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