This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
LINCOLN — A state official confirmed Monday that Nebraska has applied for $3 million from the federal Inflation Reduction Act to finance a state climate plan.
It remains somewhat unclear whether the state will apply for more of the $91 million set aside for Nebraska via the $700 billion IRA, a proposal of President Joe Biden passed on a bipartisan vote of Congress.
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 “will apply for relevant grants as they become available.”
There had been some uncertainty about whether Nebraska would seek any portion of the federal Inflation Reduction Act funds.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue had introduced a bill to require the state to seek the “all funds” made available under the act, which includes money for weatherization projects in homes and businesses, electric vehicle infrastructure and agricultural practices that are drought resistant and use less water.
Blood said it didn’t make good “business” sense to allow taxpayer dollars provided by Nebraska to go to another state, as happened last year when then-Gov. Pete Ricketts declined $120 million in federal rental and utility aid.
Jim Macy, director of the NDEE, told members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Monday that the state had applied Friday for $3 million in federal funding.
That was a couple of days after Blood’s bill was subject of a public hearing.
Will state seek more IRA funds?
During Monday’s hearing on the NDEE budget proposal, Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln asked Macy if the state would apply for additional funds. The director responded that applications for other portions of the IRA have not yet opened.
But in a response to some questions from the Examiner on Tuesday, the NDEE responded with an email and a press release.
Macy, in the press release, said that seeking the climate study money was “a common-sense approach to furthering NDEE’s commitment to protect the environment, serve the people of Nebraska, and support the ag industry.”
Nebraska, he said, was among the first eight states to apply for its share of the IRA’s $5 billion Climate Pollution Reduction Grant.
Goals include soil health, improved grid
The state’s $3 million will be used to produce: a Priority Climate Action Plan, due March 1, 2024; a Comprehensive Climate Action Plan, to be submitted in two years; and a status report, due in 2027.
NDEE, in the press release, said the preliminary initiatives in its climate plan will include expanding climate-resilient agriculture, promoting electric grid upgrades and improved soil health, and encouraging innovation.
After Monday’s hearing, Wishart said the weatherization funds offered via the IRA could be obtained to help reduce energy bills on older homes in Nebraska.
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha presented a bill Monday that would add $1 million a year in funding to NDEE’s Weatherization Assistance Program.
Officials with the Omaha Public Power District, Habitat for Humanity, the Nebraska Housing Developers Association and Community Action of Nebraska all testified in favor of Wayne’s LB 237.
IRA could help weatherization
Weatherization, such as additional insulation and new furnaces, can cut energy costs by up to 25%, which is a big boost for low-income families struggling to pay other bills, the committee was told.
Tracie McPherson of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha said its weatherization program has helped people who don’t even have a furnace and have been relying on wood stoves for heat.
Macy, who testified Monday for the NDEE’s budget proposals, also told the Appropriations Committee that the agency will seek a third party to conduct a $1 million, statewide study of where nitrate pollution in groundwater is most problematic.
Macy said that such a study, which was part of Gov. Jim Pillen’s budget proposals, would help determine where nitrate levels may be rising or falling and where remediation work is most needed.
Last year, the Legislature allocated $150,000 from its American Rescue Plan Act funds for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to update a climate change assessment done in 2014.
David Corbin of the Sierra Club of Nebraska said Tuesday that he’s encouraged that the state will do more and is seeking the federal funding.
The state’s decision comes after the Omaha City Council, last week, hired a consultant to develop a Climate Action and Resilience Plan for the city.
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