LINCOLN — A debate in the Legislature over global warming Tuesday didn't raise the temperature as high as expected.
Lawmakers voted 35-0 to advance a bill that would spend up to $40,000 to create a report on the long-term impact of climate change on Nebraska's water and agricultural resources.
“Climate change needs to be studied so that Nebraska's ag industry is not brought to its knees,” said State Sen. Ken Haar of Lincoln, who sponsored Legislative Bill 583.
But the vote to advance the bill didn't come until after a few hot buttons were pushed. Several senators expressed a concern that climatologists who support the theory of human-driven climate change will force their views on the state.
“I don't subscribe to global warming,” said Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha. “I think there are normal, cyclical changes.”
As amended, Haar's bill would require the State Climate Assessment Response Committee to issue a report by September 2014 on how Nebraska should prepare for climate change.
Climate scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln say a review of various computer models for the Great Plains project temperature increases over the next century. While the models project a range of increases, all predict that the region will get hotter.
Tuesday's debate comes on the heels of the hottest and driest year on record in Nebraska. Estimates of the cost of last year's drought are still being tallied, but they range from $35 billion to $77 billion, according to a fact sheet distributed by Haar.
Haar's bill originally would have required a member of the High Plains Regional Climate Center to join the state climate committee. The committee was created in 1991 to advise the state's top elected officials on drought-related issues. It is required to meet twice a year, although it can meet more frequently if necessary.
Several senators opposed that part of the bill. They pointed out that the High Plains center advises the climate committee, and they favored keeping that arrangement unchanged.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill proposed amendments to strike the language requiring a High Plains center climatologist to be a voting member of the state climate committee. After Haar said he could support the change, one such amendment was adopted.
McCoy also was able to pass an amendment to insert the term “cyclical” in front of “climate change” in the bill. He argued that made it clear the bill was not presupposing that climate change is caused by human use of fossil fuels.
Others, however, challenged the idea of scientific consensus on global warming.
“When they talk about melting at the North Pole, what's happening at the South Pole?” asked Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial. “Have any of you gone and looked? It's freezing.”
Haar cautioned his colleagues not to confuse the year-to-year changes in weather with climate, which involves weather trends tracked over decades.
Other senators raised concerns about the cost of the study, which was initially predicted to run about $140,000. Haar said he reduced the scope of the study and negotiated with university scientists to come up with the reduced cost of no more than $40,000.
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