Environmental Trust proposes rule changes to clarify procedures
Watchdog group says proposals fall short and make it harder for ordinary citizens to determine grant criteria
The Nebraska Environmental Trust, headquartered in Lincoln, awards about $20 million a year in grants to help the state’s environment. (Courtesy of the Nebraska Environmental Trust)
LINCOLN — The Nebraska Environmental Trust is proposing 22 pages of rule changes with hopes that it will clarify its procedures and make more consistent its administration of about $20 million a year in grants it handles from state lottery proceeds.
The Trust will take public comment on the proposals May 4 at noon in a basement hearing room at a state office building at 245 Fallbrook Blvd. in northwest Lincoln.
Karl Elmshaeuser, the Trust’s executive director, said many of the changes involve removing regulations that are already duplicated in state statutes.
That includes large chunks of rules that state the “categories” of projects funded by the Trust and the “purpose” of the organization, which was established to distribute grants for environmental and conservation projects funded by the Nebraska State Lottery.
They haven’t done anything to clear up the things that have caused them problems or irritated the public.
– Sandy Scofield of Friends of the Environmental Trust
Additions to the rules are also being proposed that require grant applications to spell out long-term environmental benefits of their project and to provide a plan for evaluating the benefits. The rules proposals also state that prior grant recipients would not be eligible for new grants if they didn’t comply with prior grant deadlines and other terms.
Not everyone is pleased with the proposals, which came after the Trust held a series of listening sessions across the state last year and after a state audit and performance assessment recommended changes in the regulations.
Sandy Scofield, a former state senator who is involved in a watchdog group called “Friends of the Environmental Trust,” said she doesn’t think the rule changes address a key problem, which is clarifying the requirements to qualify for Trust grants.
High number of grants ruled ineligible
Of the 87 grant requests made to the Trust last year, 40 were deemed ineligible for grants, including several applications that had won approval in past years. It prompted dozen of complaints at a hearing in November.
That followed additional complaints at a Trust “listening session” in October about the unexplained rejection of dozens of grant requests.
The Trust, in the past, disqualified only a handful of applications a year. Concerns have also been expressed about the millions in funds the Trust has declined to grant, creating an unprecedented fund surplus.
“They haven’t done anything to clear up the things that have caused them problems or irritated the public,” said Scofield, who was chief of staff under Gov. Ben Nelson when the Environmental Trust was created.
“The main reason you do this is to communicate with the public,” she said. “And this is a mighty poor job of doing that.”
Transfer of funds also proposed
Send written testimony to: Nebraska Environmental Trust, 700 S 16th St, Lincoln, NE 68508, or to [email protected]
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