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Nebraskans tell governor not to 'kick the can' on Clean Power Plan

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Jack Miller, an energetic 6-year-old from Omaha with a mop of blonde hair, gave the empty soup can before him a powerful kick, sending it flying in front of the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday night.

But this was no normal game of kick the can. The powerfully launched tin cylinder carried with it a message for Gov. Pete Ricketts: Don’t kick the can on President Barack Obama’s Clean Power proposal.

Miller and his dad, Jason, were among about 60 people who gathered in front of the Governor's Mansion to symbolically kick the can and present a petition including about 3,000 signatures urging Ricketts to adopt a plan to reduce carbon emissions from the state’s power sector.

“He has a moral obligation to speak out about climate change. And if he is not doing that, he is not fulfilling his responsibilities as a public servant, as a Christian or as a human being,” said Helen Winston, a first-year University of Nebraska-Lincoln student.

The Environmental Protection Agency released final details on the Clean Power Plan in August. It calls for reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel-powered electricity generation by 32 percent nationwide based on 2005 levels.

The plan gives each state a goal, using emissions data from 2012 as a baseline. For Nebraska it’s a 40 percent reduction by 2030. States are encouraged to come up with their own plan to address the new goals. If they don’t, the federal government will impose one.

The EPA is expected to publish the plan in the Federal Register this month, making it official.

Ricketts criticized organizers of the event, calling their message premature.

“Nebraska is already doing a great job providing clean, reliable power in our state,” Ricketts said in an emailed statement.

“I have tasked the Departments of Energy and Environmental Quality to work with public power to develop a plan that works for Nebraska. It’s premature for special interest groups to call for a final plan when the EPA still hasn’t officially published the final Clean Power Plan rule.”

Ricketts has yet to say whether Nebraska will adopt the plan.

Nebraska and 14 other states plan to take legal action challenging the Clean Power Plan in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Legal experts expect the cases will take up to two years to be decided by a three-judge panel. 

Jim Bunstock, a spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality said state officials are still looking at different ways the state could meet stated goals.

“More analysis is needed, and broader input will be solicited, before decisions are made regarding whether the state will submit a plan, and what would be contained in the plan,” Bunstock said in an email.

One critic of the plan, Jessica Herrmann with the Platte Institute for Economic Research, called it political theater and said Obama is seeking to secure his legacy.

"This mandate would raise electricity prices and cost Nebraskans billions of dollars while essentially doing nothing to lower global carbon emissions,” Herrmann said.

"This mandate would actually destroy opportunities rather than create them. Nebraska's industrial electricity rates are already higher than the national average. This federal regulation would further increase the costs to do business in Nebraska and cripple our manufacturing and agricultural communities."

Nebraska Sierra Club spokesman Ken Winston said the Clean Power Plan gives the state an opportunity to beef up its renewable energy portfolio as an alternative to fossil fuels and also criticized Ricketts for holding discussions on the state plan behind closed doors.

“Rather than having meetings behind closed doors that the rest of us are not allowed to participate in, all of us should be invited,” Winston said.

“We Nebraskans know best how to deal with our own plan. We don’t need the EPA to come here and tell us what we know how to do. We know our own state. We know how to protect our resources. We know how to best use them.”

If Nebraska moves forward with its own plan, initial details would be due to the EPA by September 2016 and final plan due by September 2018.

The event was part of a national day of action to demand politicians act to address climate change. The Lincoln event attracted support from the Sierra Club, Bold Nebraska, Nebraska League of Women Voters and students from the University of Nebraska.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ljsbergin.

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