Nebraska lawmaker: Humans not changing climate but must prepare

Source: By Grant Schulte, Associated Press • Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A lawmaker who doesn’t believe humans are causing climate change is nevertheless leading a push to ensure Nebraska farmers are better prepared for extreme weather like the blizzards and flooding that hit the state this year.

The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee will look for changes to state law that might help farmers recover more quickly from such storms, which killed livestock and left farmland flooded for weeks. The review comes at the request of the committee’s chairman, Sen. Steve Halloran, a former farmer from Hastings.

“I see this as more about preparedness after the fact,” Halloran said. “The next 500-year storm could happen next year. What tangible lessons can we learn from these most recent storms?”

Halloran believes the climate is changing as part of natural environmental cycles but rejects the census of climate scientists who say it’s indisputably driven by human activity.

Nebraska’s top climatologist has said climate change will lead to longer, hotter summers in the state as well as more frequent flooding from intense rain and snowstorms. Average river and groundwater levels could drop as well, requiring more conservation.

Although he doesn’t believe in man-made climate change, Halloran said he wants state officials to use this year’s extreme weather as a case study to see how agencies such as the Nebraska Department of Agriculture should respond in the future.

Halloran said state officials responded quickly to the farmers hurt by the March floods, but he’d like to know whether agencies could have done anything better. He said he was particularly concerned about disasters that kill huge numbers of cattle or hogs, and how state officials should dispose of the carcasses.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said many of his group’s members are concerned about the weather extremes, but they view this year as an anomaly and haven’t drawn a conclusion as to whether it’s part of a longer-term trend.

Nelson said that while his group has held discussions about how to adapt to a changing climate, his member farmers question whether the warmer temperatures are driven by human activity. Most Farm Bureau members are more concerned about rising property taxes and the impact of the U.S. trade war on their bottom lines, he said.

“All of this is happening at a time when we have really tight margins for practically everything farmers and ranchers grow,” Nelson said.

Nelson said his group supports efforts to mitigate future floods and better manage Nebraska’s water supply in drought years. He said he was satisfied with the state’s efforts to rebuild flood-ravaged roads and bridges and to connect them to services they need, but he noted that many farmers are still recovering.

One farm group that has pushed for more renewable energy welcomed the legislative review, saying it’s important to help producers adjust to a less-forgiving climate. For farmers, more extreme weather means greater crop damage, soil erosion and stress on livestock.

“Everybody knows that something’s going on, that things aren’t quite the way they normally are,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

Hansen said the changes are particularly concerning for younger farmers who want assurances that they can sustain their operations.

“For them, it’s not a political issue. It’s a reality,” he said.

Some Nebraska lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully to prepare the state for climate change by creating a formal response plan, but the idea hasn’t gained much traction despite major droughts, flooding and wildfires in the last few years. Lawmakers have created a committee to study the matter but haven’t yet taken significant action.

Nebraska is one of seven Plains states that haven’t drafted such a plan. Across the country, 33 states and the District of Columbia have created such plans since the mid-2000s. They typically call for reductions in greenhouse emissions, a proposal likely to draw opposition from Nebraska’s conservative Legislature. — Grant Schulte, Associated Press