LINCOLN — The state commission that subsidizes environmental projects was met with harsh criticism after seeking comment on Tuesday.
Three witnesses in a “listening session” said the Nebraska Environmental Trust disqualified more grant applicants than usual and generally “protected, enhanced, and restored Nebraska’s natural environment.” He lashed out at him for deviating from his mission. “
Founded 30 years ago, the agency uses approximately $20 million annually in state lottery proceeds to fund environmental, recycling and conservation projects.
“The promise made to the people of Nebraska was to help the environment,” said Lincoln’s attorney Laurie Benson. “But there seems to be a hostility towards funding environmental projects, and even funding the environment in general.”
“It’s sad,” Benson added.
Karl Elmsmauser, executive director of the trust, said Tuesday’s session aims to gather ideas on whether the rules and regulations governing the body known as Title 137 should be changed. It said it was not intended to provide a response to comments or criticism.
Phone and email messages left for Omaha attorney Mark Kandall, who chairs the Environmental Trust Commission, went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.
One of the 14 trust board members attended the session. Lincoln’s Jeff Kangar asked whether “public access” was an important issue when considering whether the Trust would give funding for the Conservation Easement.
Trout fishing easement
Benson said that could be the case, depending on the nature of the land being preserved. It is “a mystery to me” why the trust rejected a recent grant for a conservation easement to protect the Pine Ridge ranch, she added.
Tuesday’s complaint appeared to be the latest complaint about the trust, which two years ago its board opted to refund a handful of grants for conservation projects and instead put ethanol blender pumps at gas stations. It all started when we sent $1.5 million to fund the establishment of the
A lawsuit then ensued and the Trust’s oversight group was formed. A year ago, further criticism came after several previous recipients of the Trust’s grants, including recycling businesses, were deemed ineligible.
Governor Pete Ricketts, who has appointed nine of the Trust Board’s 14 members and elected four of its five directors, defended their actions, citing the importance of ethanol to the state’s economy. Did. Critics argue that subsidy decisions are now guided by politics and benefits to farmer groups rather than environmental benefits.
46% rejection rate
Among the complaints filed by three witnesses on Tuesday:
- The Trust disqualifies a significant number of grant applications even before they are scored on several criteria, including environmental and public interest, for approval. 40 were recommended for disqualification by the grant review board. This includes grants for recycling programs and swamp conservation for waterfowl, as the examiners learned. Last year, 36 out of 118 grant applications were considered ineligible, with a rejection rate of 30% compared to a rejection rate of 46% this year. Prior to 2021, fewer than a handful of grants were rejected as ineligible each year. “It seems really weird,” said Cortland’s Ann DeVries. DeVries, a mechanical engineer, has spent the past 15 years working as a volunteer technical reviewer on grant applications to determine the feasibility of projects for the Trust. She said she wrote one poorly written grant application this year, but it was her first in 10 years.
- “Climate change” is not included in the criteria considered when awarding grants. “This is a major environmental problem of our time,” Benson said, suggesting that projects that address the problem should be given higher recognition.
- The Trust no longer awards all of the roughly $20 million it makes annually from state lotteries, withholding about $3 million last year. In the past, less than $200,000 was paid out annually. Lincoln’s Rob Schubach wonders if the trust is “mousetrapping” funds for upcoming mega-projects, such as a proposed 4,000-acre recreational lake between Omaha and Lincoln. He called the lake a “farce” and a “lake booze cruise.”
- The general public received notice of the first listening session at Lincoln a few days ago. Short notice that the examiner received her release to the press on Friday raised the suspicion that public opinion doesn’t matter all that much.
public hearing required
Six people attended the listening session in Lincoln on Tuesday, and three testified. Elsewhere he has three listening sessions scheduled.
Trust officials stressed that if the trust board recommends rule changes, they will be subject to public hearings and people will have another chance to testify.
Elmshauser said comments provided on Tuesday and other listening sessions will be considered by the trust board in deciding whether changes to Title 137 are necessary.
Consideration of potential changes began in May when the trust’s board of directors appointed a committee to consider the amendments.
At the time, the Board identified 11 concerns about current regulatory clarity, including the implications of subsidy eligibility requirements related to cost benefits, environmental and economic impacts, and “private interests.”