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Using Nebraska's Resources to Power our Economy


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As our economy struggles, the lack of bipartisan solutions from Congress only adds to our frustration. While House Republicans are working to reduce the burden of government, cut wasteful spending, and streamline government programs to encourage economic growth, not hinder it, more than thirty House-passed bills aimed at private sector job creation and growth have idled in the Democrat-led Senate. There have been, however, a few areas where both parties have found common ground and work together to pass meaningful legislation which benefits our economy.

This week the House passed H.R. 5892, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act by an overwhelming vote of 372-0. This commonsense legislation would improve the costly and time-consuming permitting process for hydropower projects, which would encourage production of clean, domestic energy and economic development opportunities for rural Americans at no cost to taxpayers.

The bill included language from the Small Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act, legislation I introduced to exempt small hydropower projects from Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting rules.

The FERC permitting process is so lengthy and burdensome it can make small scale hydropower projects cost prohibitive. According to experts who testified at a hearing on small scale hydropower, FERC requirements often cost more than the projects themselves.

Removing the permit requirements for small hydro projects would allow, for instance, irrigation districts and municipalities in Nebraska to partner with local power districts to use irrigation canals and other man-made waterways to generate up to 5 megawatts of existing conduit hydropower.

Generating electricity from dams and reservoirs has provided Nebraskans affordable and reliable energy for generations, and promoting new efforts designed to produce hydropower from smaller sources will benefit our energy security and environment. Given the bipartisan support for this legislation in the House, the Senate and President should act quickly to pass this commonsense reform into law.

Another area of bipartisan agreement is the need to develop domestic supplies of strategic and critical minerals such as rare earth elements.

Rare earth elements are critical components of high-tech military equipment, renewable energy technology and products we use everyday such as cell phones, computers, medical equipment and other common household items. Despite the importance of rare earth metals to our economy and national security, we are nearly 100 percent reliant on foreign countries for these elements because of onerous regulations and a burdensome permitting process.

China, which produces 97 percent of rare earth elements available in the world today, actively restricted the export of these minerals to the United States over the last year. Although exports have resumed, China significantly reduced what it is allowing in compared with precious years.

To cut red tape and increase domestic mining of these vital minerals, the House passed H.R. 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act with bipartisan support. This legislation would streamline the permitting process for mineral development, and would reduce the time for permit approval from 10 years to 30 months.

Removing unnecessary permitting delays for mines could have a direct positive impact on Nebraska's economy by expediting development in the state. Preliminary tests have shown various areas contain significant amounts of rare earth minerals including niobium, which is used to strengthen steel for use in cars and the aerospace industries.

If passed into law, these bipartisan bills would not only demonstrate Congress is capable of working together on the priorities of the American people, but also strengthen our energy and national security while fueling private sector growth and development in rural America. As we seek innovative ways to power our economy forward, we need look no further than Nebraska's own resources.

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