State confirms it has applied for federal funding for state climate plan

LINCOLN. On Monday, a state official confirmed that Nebraska has applied for $3 million under the federal Inflation Reduction Act to fund the state’s climate change plan.

It remains somewhat unclear whether the state will apply for an additional $91 million earmarked for Nebraska through a $700 billion IRA, a proposal by President Joe Biden passed by a bipartisan Congressional vote.

A spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy said Tuesday afternoon that the agency will assess the “viability” of other grant programs and “apply for appropriate grants as they become available.”

There was some uncertainty as to whether Nebraska would request any of the federal Inflation Reduction Act funds.

State Senator Carol Blood of Bellevue introduced a bill requiring the state to seek “every means” available under the law, including money for projects to insulate homes and businesses, electric vehicle infrastructure, and drought-tolerant agricultural practices and use less water.

Blood said it didn’t make good “business” sense to allow Nebraska-provided taxpayer dollars to transfer to another state, as happened last year when the then governor. Pete Ricketts turned down $120 million in federal rent and utility assistance.

Jim Macy, director of NDEE, told members of the Legislative Assembly committee on appropriations Monday that the state filed on Friday for $3 million in federal funding.

It was a couple of days after Blood’s bill went to public hearing.

Will the state seek more IRA funds?

During Monday’s hearing on the NDEE budget proposal, Senator Lincoln Anna Wishart asked Macy if the state would apply for additional funds. The director replied that applications for other parts of the IRA were not yet open.

But in response to some questions from the Examiner on Tuesday, NDEE responded with an email and a press release.

Macy said in a press release that seeking money for climate research was “common sense to advance NDEE’s commitment to protecting the environment, serving the people of Nebraska, and supporting the agricultural industry.”

Nebraska was among the first eight states to apply for its share of a $5 billion IRA climate pollution reduction grant, he said.

Goals include soil health, improved grid

The $3 million provided by the State will be used to develop: A Priority Climate Change Action Plan due March 1, 2024; Comprehensive action plan to combat climate change, due in two years; and a status report due in 2027.

The NDEE press release says preliminary initiatives in its climate plan will include expanding climate-resilient agriculture, promoting electricity grid upgrades and improving soil health, and encouraging innovation.

Following Monday’s hearing, Wishart said weather funds offered through the IRA could be raised to help cut electricity bills for older homes in Nebraska.

Omaha Senator Justin Wayne introduced a bill on Monday that would add $1 million a year to funding for the NDEE Weatherization Assistance Program.

Officials from the State Government District of Omaha, Habitat for Humanity, the Nebraska Home Developers Association, and Community Action of Nebraska testified in favor of Wayne’s LB 237.

IRA can help with insulation

Weather protection, such as additional insulation and new stoves, can cut energy costs by up to 25%, a big incentive for low-income families struggling to pay other bills, the committee said.

Tracey McPherson of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha said her weather protection program has helped people who don’t even have a stove and who have relied on wood-burning stoves for warmth.

Macy, who testified Monday about NDEE’s budget proposals, also told the Appropriations Committee that the agency will be seeking a third party to conduct a $1 million statewide study where nitrate pollution in groundwater is most problematic.

Macy said the study, which was part of Gov. Jim Pillen’s budget proposals, will help determine where nitrate levels may be rising or falling and where remedial work is most needed.

Last year, the Legislature appropriated $150,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to update the 2014 climate change assessment.

David Corbin of the Sierra Club of Nebraska said Tuesday he is encouraged that the state is doing more and is seeking federal funding.

The state’s decision comes after Omaha City Council hired a consultant last week to develop the City’s Climate Action and Resiliency Action Plan.

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