Heineman calls Nov. 1 special session on pipeline

2011-10-24T15:45:00Z 2011-10-29T12:00:04Z Heineman calls Nov. 1 special session on pipelineBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
October 24, 2011 3:45 pm  • 

The Keystone XL pipeline issue took a surprising route of its own Monday.

Key senators who have been asking for a special session to deal with the siting of the pipeline, which is proposed to be built over the Ogallala Aquifer, were surprised and happy about Gov. Dave Heineman's call Monday for a Nov. 1 special session to deal with the issue.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, who has been working with several senators and attorneys on a siting bill, said they will be ready Tuesday to talk about significant changes they have made to the proposal.

The bill is focused around an oil pipeline permit process by the Nebraska Public Service Commission. The revised version will answer the legal and constitutional questions, Dubas said.

Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar said he appreciated the governor's leadership and his willingness to call a special session.

"I'm confident we will come out of this with a very good siting law," he said.

In announcing the special session, Heineman said Nebraskans expect the effort by their lawmakers to have a "thoughtful and thorough" public discussion about solutions for the pipeline route.

"I'm not certain there's a solution," he said, "but I know it's important that we try."

The session will be a unique one, he said. The wording for the session call will be worked out over the next several days.

He said he hopes senators can complete the session within two weeks and no later than by Thanksgiving.

The state must decide if there's anything it can do -- legally and constitutionally -- to impact the route before the Department of State makes its decision on the permit, expected by the end of the year.

"One thing is very clear, the state of Nebraska would have a stronger legal basis for its action if it acted prior to the permit decision," Heineman said.

But he was cautious.

"We think there is potentially an opportunity here, but it's very narrow. It's not unlimited. It's not absolute."

He is hoping over the next week that several alternatives can be drafted.

TransCanada wants to build the 36-inch pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has been working on the route for several years.

The $7 billion, 1,700-mile project has been met by fierce resistance from Sandhills landowners and from advocacy groups worried about the potential effects of an oil spill over the aquifer -- the nation's largest.

Heineman's call for a special session came less than a week after Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk said he did not support efforts by lawmakers to call a special session. 

He would support considering legislation in the 2012 session that would apply to future pipeline proposals, he said.

On Monday, Flood said the issue has never been about whether the state has a legitimate role in protecting its groundwater and natural resources.

"The question, for me, has been how to exercise that role within the parameters of the law," he said. "A siting law that is thrown out by the courts has no lasting impact. To suggest otherwise, is not being up front with Nebraskans."

Still, he said, he is committed to ensuring the Legislature will act fairly and consider any-and-all proposed legislation.

"If a solution is to be found that does more than present a short-term, feel-good "Band-Aid" to the legitimate concerns about the proposed route, I will carefully consider and thoughtfully act on such a bill," he said.

Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, chairman of the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee, said the committee stands ready to consider any siting legislation related to oil pipelines. 

"Senators on our committee believe in doing our best to protect our states’ natural resources, within the parameters of the law," he said. 

Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, said the governor's announcement is welcome news to people and groups fighting the pipeline.

Bold Nebraska will continue to stand with landowners and citizens across our state to ensure regulations get passed that have real meaning, she said.

Kleeb said Nebraska has the authority to route oil pipelines, require bond for road repairs, and make sure landowners are not liable for oil spills.

"The list is long on what our state can do to ensure our land and water are safe," she said, "because right now, in our state, my hair dresser has more regulations to follow than oil pipelines."

After a meeting two weeks ago in Norfolk with several state senators, TransCanada offered no change in the route, but did offer a six-point plan for easing concerns about it.

The Calgary-based company proposed a $100 million performance bond and an operations office in O'Neill as additional ways to cope with the possibility of an oil leak or spill.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

 

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