Property owners would win the right to challenge land seizures for renewable energy projects in court with the Legislature’s unanimous passage Monday of state Sen. Tom Brewer’s 2019 priority bill.
Lawmakers also would assert their authority to protect the Sandhills and other environmentally sensitive areas under Legislative Bill 155, which won 44-0 final approval.
The measure, which now goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, had been one of two Brewer-introduced bills pitting renewable-energy advocates against Sandhills residents fearful of lasting damage from planting heavy wind turbines in their fragile topsoil.
The other, LB 373, would limit future wind energy projects after a two-year interim period to counties that have adopted zoning regulations for wind projects. That bill remains in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which Brewer chairs.
LB 155 “opens the courthouse doors to our farmers and ranchers when their homes and livelihoods are threatened,” Brewer, the District 43 senator from Gordon, said after Monday’s final vote.
“It is a modest first victory for property rights. I will fight to make sure it is not the last.”
As originally written, LB 155 would have stricken from state law its absolute finding that the use of eminent domain by private renewable-energy developers is a “public use.”
But in its final form, the bill declares that finding a “rebuttable presumption,” converting the finding into a standard that landowners whose properties are targeted for seizure can ask a judge to review.
Brewer declared LB 155 his priority bill but saw it fall two votes short of first-round approval in its original form on Feb. 27.
That would have sidelined the bill for the session had not Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, in an unusual move, also declared LB 155 his personal priority bill.
When it returned April 17, senators voted 40-1 to advance the bill with the “rebuttable presumption” language after voting 37-1 for a Brewer amendment adding the phrase.
Brewer’s amendment also declares that “Nebraska has the authority as a sovereign state to protect its land, natural resources and cultural resources for economic and aesthetic purposes” by regulating energy projects.
Among other findings, it notes the Sandhills’ “numerous ranchers and farmers” and deems the region “an irreplaceable habitat for millions of migratory birds and other wildlife every year” and “home to priceless archaeological sites of historical and cultural significance to American Indians.”
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