Nebraska lawmakers advance climate change study

Farm Forum

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska lawmakers gave first round approval Tuesday to a measure that would launch a state review of climate change.

Lawmakers voted 35-0 to advance the proposal by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm after a handful of lawmakers denounced global warming. The bill still must pass through two more rounds of debate.

Several scientific reviews have confirmed that 97 percent of scientists agree human activities contribute to climate change. Scientists overwhelmingly say that global climate change is happening and accelerating. Haar has said climate change is receiving more attention this session after farms and ranches were threatened by a harsh drought last summer.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln climate professor Robert Oglesby, who researches the causes of droughts, said temperatures in Nebraska are expected to rise by 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. He also said extreme weather events will be more common and more extreme in the coming years.

A state climate-assessment committee was created in 1991 to develop a plan to respond to droughts. Haar’s bill would expand the committee’s duties to study and report on how climate change impacts the state. Committee members would be required to present a report on climate patterns in Nebraska and the climate’s possible impacts on agriculture, water, wildlife, ecosystems, forests and outdoor recreation.

The Nebraska’s Climate Assessment Response Committee, which consists of members appointed by the governor, would provide an initial report by September 2014 and a final report by December 2014. Haar estimates the bill would cost $40,000. Haar said the committee would look into the long-term impacts of climate change, under the bill.

“My bill deals with climate change,” Haar said. “It’s here, it’s happening and we will have to adapt.”

Nebraska lawmakers who do not believe in global warming blocked a portion of the bill that would have let a climatologist join the Nebraska’s Climate Assessment Response Committee that assesses drought and severe weather. Haar wanted to put a climatologist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s High Plains Regional Climate Center, which gathers climate data, on the committee. He backed down after Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill and Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha protested adding a climate expert to the panel. McCoy and Larson said it wasn’t necessary to add a climatologist to the committee since one already advises the committee members.

Members that currently sit on the panel include Nebraska agency directors, livestock and crop producers, UNL Cooperative Extension and Conservation and Survey Division representatives, a staffer from the governor’s policy research office, and the chairs of the Legislature’s Agriculture and Natural Resources committees.

McCoy said he does not believe in global warming. He said the committee should focus on studying the impacts of drought rather than climate change or global warming. He said he doesn’t want to allow the committee to author reports on an issue that he doesn’t think the state should pursue.

“I believe there are normal cyclical climate changes that are not caused by man-made attempts,” McCoy said. “… I think we are straying from the purpose of this committee with this overall bill.”

State senators also approved an amendment to call climate change cyclical throughout the bill, perceived as an effort to discount that climate change could be man-made.

Haar said he agrees that there have been cyclical climate changes through history, and was fine with adding the word cyclical to describe climate change.

“I didn’t really bring the bill to argue whether or not climate change is man-made or not,” Haar said. “… What this bill concentrates on is what is going to happen to Nebraska and how will this effect Nebraska agriculture.”