My late afternoon visit to the Polk Progress was at the invitation of the publisher, and I was not prepared for the multisensory assault of his office. The first wave was the strong smell of ink and solvent, followed by the clatter of a Linotype machine, and finally a visual of printer’s ink, gradually transforming the interior and its contents toward black. Equally stark was the December view across Polk’s Main Street through the front window. The John Deere Implement dealership and the IGA grocery store were closed and dark. Pickup trucks parked in front of the American Legion Club were muddy and utilitarian. Their rear bumpers defined 1971 with a Nebraska license (black lettering on a white background) and a bumper sticker that read “America—Love It or Leave It.” At 17 years of age, the world was only visible in black and white.
For you eagle eyed readers of the December issue, part two of the In the Path of the Pipeline story slipped off our storyboard but will appear in our January issue.
Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station at Brownville, completed in 1974, is an important piece of the utility’s fleet. With an output of 810 megawatts (MW), Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) relies on Cooper for about 20 percent of the electricity it generates.
In December the NPPD board will consider a proposal to invest in an Extended Power Uprate at Cooper Nuclear Station. The main turbine in the facility is due for replacement, and by replacing it with a larger turbine, NPPD could increase the amount of electricity the plant can produce by about 146 MW. That represents about an 18 percent increase in the power plant’s output capacity.
Born and raised in McCook, a small town in rural Nebraska, I have always tried to be a good steward to our land, air and water. I think most Nebraskans who have a rural background have a deep commitment to the environment. It may come from our dependence on the land for everything we have in a richly agriculture state that has some of the most beautiful, pristine scenery in America.
I believe our respect for nature is one of the reasons Nebraskans have so much common sense. “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Those are the words of Albert Einstein, and they certainly apply to Nebraskans and our care of the environment.
To protect and preserve Nebraska’s environment, I worked diligently with the Nebraska Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, natural resources districts and others to establish the Environmental Trust Fund, which I signed into law as governor to fund environmental projects.
Looking back to that time I can truthfully say it was one of my greatest legislative accomplishments during eight years as governor and 12 in the United States Senate.
This is a story of treachery, deception, luck, timing, courage and power politics. In other words: how a law is made. It is a recounting of the process and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that resulted in the creation of the Nebraska Environmental Trust during the 1992 session of the Nebraska Legislature. This essay is gleaned from a written “after-action” report I prepared then for my lobbying client, the Nebraska Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, legislative records and from my own, admittedly faulty, memory. Some names are left out to protect the guilty.
By most accounts, the Environmental Trust, funded by the Nebraska Lottery has been a great success. According to the trust, “Over [the past 19 years] $189 million in grants has been given to more than 1,300 projects that have improved Nebraskans’ lives in the name of conservation.”
It was created “to conserve, enhance, and restore the natural physical and biological environmental environment in Nebraska, including the air, land, ground water and surface water, flora and fauna, prairies and forests, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and natural areas of aesthetic or scenic values,” according to the authorizing legislation.
I have a particular, or some might say peculiar, occupational hazard. As others travel the country, they look dutifully right and left at intersections. Now I promise I do that, too, but in addition, I scan ahead and left and right when crossing streams and rivers. What’s the estimated river discharge? Is the flow high or low? Invasive species? Algal blooms? But most significantly for me, is there a streamgage? Typically these gages are identified by small shelters at either end of a bridge that contain instrumentation continually measuring the stream or river water level. This instrumentation transmits that data in near real time for posting on the Internet for almost immediate access to water-resources decision makers and the public.
Nebraska is blessed in having substantial populations of both species of North American eagles, the bald eagle and golden eagle. The bald eagle, our national symbol, has become sufficiently common during the last four decades that it not unheard of to see them perching or fishing within the city limits of Lincoln. In the summer of 2012 a pair even nested along Salt Creek, at the northern edge of the city. Yet, from 1962, when I first arrived in Lincoln, until the late 1970s, a sighting of bald eagles almost anywhere in the state would be memorable.
When Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” was published in 1949, I was four years old and climbing my first tree to peer in wonder at the sky-blue eggs a robin had laid. In college I absorbed the vision of Henry David Thoreau, and on two pilgrimages to Walden Pond swam naked by moonlight and slept beside Thoreau’s foundation stones. When my wife and I took responsibility for land on the Missouri River Bluff in 1982, I had lived three decades in largely undisciplined efforts to make sense of the natural world. Then a friend gave me “A Sand County Almanac.” I found described in a thoughtful, orderly way the rough and sometimes vague perceptions and conclusions to which living was bringing me.
It’s the middle of the summer. It’s hot. The kind of hot that smacks you in the face and melts the soles of your shoes. Yet here we are, standing in the partial shade of a canopy, drenched with sweat, talking with dozens of people as they pick up their vegetables. Even if they don’t say it out loud, you can see it in their eyes. They think we’re crazy. And they kind of like it.
Craziness is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of a farmer. I’m not referring to the craziness of the farmer managing 4,000 acres of transgenic soybeans and corn with a GPS-guided million-dollar tractor (although that has its own level of craziness). Rather, I’m talking about the small-scale, hyper-local, toes-in-the-mud kind of farmer. The grandma who runs outside at 2 a.m. in her skivvies to swear at the raccoon that somehow found its way into the chicken coop again. The African refugee who grows two dozen varieties of ethnic greens and knows the best way to cook each one. The young father who stands at the farmers’ market stall, choking back a retort and somehow responding graciously when a customer says that $4 a pound is way too much for green beans. And if these farmers are crazy, then I’m not sure what our label is—our goal is to convince even more people to farm.
I was enrolled in a graduate seminar in the early 1980s that met in Cairo. One warm afternoon I decided to skip class and take a nap. Finding a refuge from traffic noise and the desert sun was not easy, but I found a local medieval mosque that offered walled sanctuary with plenty of cool stone and cooing doves. Nestled in a carpeted corner, I awoke from my unauthorized snooze to find myself surrounded by young men sitting at the feet of an Imam who looked as old as the mosque. Realizing that I had skipped class only to wake up in another, I sleepily propped myself against the wall to be lectured in an unfamiliar language.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court, in effect, threw out all existing death penalty statutes in the U.S., leading many observers to believe that we would never again see an execution on American soil. How wrong they were. Since then over 1,300 men and a dozen women have been put to death, about 37 percent of whom met their fate on the gurney in Huntsville, Texas. Today nearly 3,200 inmates await execution in the 33 states that allow it. Nebraska has executed three prisoners since 1972 (the last was 15 years ago), and 11 more sit on the state’s death row in Tecumseh.
Capital punishment has always been controversial in the Cornhusker state. In 1979 the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, only to see the legislation vetoed by Gov. Charley Thone. Since then abolition bills have regularly been introduced in the legislature, and in 2007 the state came within one vote of repeal. Clearly, there have been regular conversations about capital punishment throughout the state over the past 30 years.