Nebraska leaders showed foresight decades ago in creating the Nebraska Environmental Trust to support conservation measures. Since 1992, the trust has awarded $349 million in grants to more than 2,400 projects across the state. All Nebraskans can be proud of the trust’s work. These efforts have benefited all parts of the state by protecting groundwater, promoting soil quality and safeguarding wildlife habitat.
But now, all Nebraskans should be troubled by the tumult that has struck the Environmental Trust Board. That Nebraska institution has gone from being a widely supported, practical-minded entity into one more example of how political maneuvering is warping state government decision-making and polarizing Nebraskans.
The Ricketts administration’s push to have the board support economic development by diverting grants toward support of ethanol distribution triggered an uproar as well as a lawsuit. (The administration has since withdrawn the request in the wake of the lawsuit arguing that the board’s earlier ethanol decision violated the trust’s mission as defined under state law.)
In addition, Gov. Pete Ricketts has leaned hard on the board to oppose all conservation easements as part of his opposition to the Biden administration’s 30-by-30 proposal (to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and water resources by 2030). The governor, who appoints nine of the board’s 14 members, declined to reappoint a board member who supports such easements, even though such an exercise of private property rights has been widely used across the country for generations and long supported — until now — by the Environmental Trust Board.
The board members have an important choice. They can continue the present tumultuous course and allow the political squabbling to raise concern about the board’s decision-making. Or they can push back against the politics and rededicate themselves to the trust’s original mission.
The board recently sent a positive signal by approving a resolution reaffirming the trust’s commitment to its mission. Board members can follow up by choosing a new director who will affirm a dedication to that mission.
It’s time for the Nebraska Environmental Trust to restore stability to environmental management. In so doing, it can finally restore the public’s trust.