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Nebraska Environmental Trust seeks input on grant application process, which has stirred past controversy

By: - October 21, 2022 2:14 pm
Nebraska Environmental Trust

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 has scheduled a trio of “listening sessions” — beginning Tuesday — to gather ideas on whether changes are needed in the process of awarding grants that benefit the state’s environment.

The Trust, which grants about $20 million a year in state lottery proceeds after scoring them, has come under fire in recent years for some grant decisions.

Controversy in 2020

Two years ago, a decision to defund a handful of grants for conservation projects, and instead award $1.5 million to a project to install ethanol blender pumps at gas stations, sparked a lawsuit and criticism from a watchdog group.

In May, the Trust board appointed a committee to look at changes in Title 137, the rules and regulations that guide the agency.

At the time, the board listed 11 concerns about the clarity of current regulations, including the meaning of grant eligibility requirements pertaining to cost-benefits, environmental and economic impact and “private benefits.”

Ricketts opposes permanent easements

The board also suggested that eligibility requirements be spelled out for “easements.”

Conservation easements have become controversial in recent years — the board used to routinely fund conservation easements, which are intended to protect property from development. But Gov. Pete Ricketts, who appoints or hires a majority of the board members, as well as some farm groups, opposes permanent conservation easements. Ricketts has declined to appoint members to the board who disagree.

The input at the listening sessions will be used by the board to draft possible changes to Title 137, according to Karl Elmshaeuser, the Trust’s executive director. Any changes would be subject to future public hearings and possible approval.

Changes before 2023 grant deadline

Elmshaeuser said it’s hoped that any changes would be in place before the September deadline for grant applications in 2023.

Listening sessions are scheduled:

  • Tuesday, 1-2 p.m. CDT, Ferguson House, 700 S. 16th St., Lincoln.
  • Nov. 9, noon- 1 p.m. CDT, State Office Building, third floor, Room E, 1313 Farnam St., Omaha.
  • Nov. 15, noon-1 p.m. CST, Kearney Public Library, 2020 First Ave., Kearney.
  • Dec. 5, 1-2 p.m. CST, via the Zoom link: htttp://outdoornebraska.zoom.us/j/99507450632

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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