LINCOLN — The issue of climate change was discussed Tuesday in the Nebraska Legislature, perhaps for the first time.
And a legislative panel reacted warmly to the idea of having an existing state climate committee conduct a long-range study on how the state's largest industry, agriculture, can deal with rising temperatures and wild swings in the weather.
“It's here, it's happening and we have to adapt to it,” State Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm told the Agriculture Committee.
Haar, a leading environmentalist in Legislature, introduced a proposal this year that would require the State Climate Assessment Response Committee to study and, by September 2014, issue a report on how the state should prepare for climate change.
Legislative Bill 583 also would enhance that committee by adding a representative of the Lincoln-based High Plains Regional Climate Center, which compiles climate data from the Great Plains.
That data documented rains in 2011 that caused the worst flooding on record on the Missouri River followed, by Nebraska's driest and warmest year.
Agriculture was particularly hard hit last year. That should serve as a wakeup call, said two climate authorities from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Recent years provide us with a great opportunity, as a state, to investigate our vulnerabilities to climate extremes,” said Michael Hayes, director of the UNL-based National Drought Mitigation Center.
Both he and Clint Rowe, a UNL climatologist, said the evidence has been established in hundreds of studies that man has contributed to global warming.
“The basic findings of human-induced climate change have been reviewed and confirmed by the leading professional scientific societies” in the United States and around the world, said Rowe.
Because of that, Rowe said, it is time to study how to adapt to the more intense weather swings that have been projected in the future and to ensure we don't make them worse.
The Agriculture Committee took no action on LB 583 after a public hearing.
But only one member of the eight-member panel, Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte, questioned the need for the study. He said Nebraska has always been a place of great weather extremes, not just recently.
The Nebraska Sierra Club, Nebraska Farmers Union and Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association were among the groups backing the study.
Only one person, John Boellstorff of Lincoln, testified against the bill, urging the committee not to succumb to the “emotion” surrounding the issue.
Haar said he was considering prioritizing the bill, which would assure that it would be debated this year.
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