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Meeting to consider controversial $1.8 million grant for ethanol pumps is delayed

Meeting to consider controversial $1.8 million grant for ethanol pumps is delayed

LINCOLN — A meeting to consider a controversial $1.8 million state environmental grant for ethanol pumps has been delayed until June 11.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust board had been scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether to approve the ethanol grant, as well as about $20 million in other grants from state lottery funds.

Conservationists had objected vehemently to a preliminary decision in February to defund a handful of grants — for preservation of saline wetlands in Lincoln, duck marshes and a Pine Ridge ranch that features a trout stream — and instead award that money for the purchase and installation of ethanol blender pumps at gasoline stations.

The conservation projects had received much higher rankings from a grant committee of the Environmental Trust than the ethanol pump idea, and conservation groups had objected that economic development seemed to trump environmental benefits.

“To conserve, enhance and restore the natural environments” of the state was the prime purpose of the grants, which were approved by Nebraska voters in 1992 when they authorized a state lottery.

Those participating in the ethanol grant included the Nebraska Department of Energy and the Environment and Green Plains Energy, one of the largest ethanol companies in the country. Green Plains has contributed $75,000 over the past three years to the campaign account of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is a leading advocate of ethanol use and who appoints several members to the Environmental Trust board.

As of Thursday, about 85 letters commenting on the preliminary grant decision have been received by the trust, with 60 opposed to the fund shift.

The June 11 meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m., will be held virtually via Zoom. Those wishing to join the meeting, either via computer or telephone, are asked to email for instructions and a password.

Those wishing to testify should contact the trust via email or at 402-471-5409 by 3 p.m. June 10. That is also the deadline for providing written comment.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Related to this story

The head of Green Plains Inc., the nation's largest ethanol producer, says his firm is being unfairly portrayed as the beneficiary of a controversial shift in a state lottery grant recommended by the Nebraska Environmental Trust board. Conservationists questioned the shift, which defunded five conservation projects that were scored higher by a grants committee.

Conservationists criticize the Nebraska Environmental Trust board's decision to direct an extra $1.8 million in grant funds to a private ethanol company, at the expense of projects to preserve saline wetlands, duck marshes and a Pine Ridge ranch that features a trout stream. Two board members defended the move as a bigger help to the agriculture economy and clean air.

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