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Nebraska environmental trust fund grants challenged in court
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Nebraska environmental trust fund grants challenged in court

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Supporters of the state's environmental trust fund have filed a lawsuit alleging that the Nebraska Environmental Trust Board violated state law in recently awarding trust fund grants to help fund installation of ethanol pumps at privately owned service stations.

The action was filed in Lancaster County District Court by W. Don Nelson and Jon Oberg, both of whom have held positions in state government during public service careers.

The lawsuit alleges the board violated provisions of the environmental trust act, which direct that funding grants, financed primarily by the Nebraska Lottery, be directed to projects that "conserve, enhance and restore natural environments in the state."

The board denied funding for five projects that had been recommended by the trust's grant committee, including a saline wetlands project proposed by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department, in order to steer funding to Green Plains Inc., a large ethanol producer, the lawsuit alleges.

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That $1.8 million in funding would be used to pay half of the purchase price and expense of buying ethanol pumps and storage tanks and installing them in privately owned retail service stations.

The lawsuit alleges that "expenditure of state funds for private beneficiaries that can afford to pay costs of those benefits without assistance" is directly contrary to the requirements of the environmental trust act. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts has defended the board's action, citing the environmental value of using ethanol as a motor vehicle fuel. The governor appoints nine members of the board.

The vote to steer funding to the ethanol producer was approved on a 7-2 vote, but the lawsuit argues that vote failed to meet the Nebraska Environmental Trust Act requirement for majority approval by the 14-member board.

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The board also failed to conform to open meeting requirements during the process, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit seeks a court order voiding those awards.

Former Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler heads a new citizens group, Friends of the Nebraska Environmental Trust, that has been formed to advocate for compliance with the trust's environmental mission.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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