Ben Nelson

Sen. Ben Nelson (LJS file)

A day after Republican Sen. Mike Johanns said the Obama Administration is in "crisis mode" in dealing with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, his Democratic counterpart used the same term to describe the on-going special session of the Nebraska Legislature.

If there had been state action earlier on pipeline siting, Ben Nelson said in his weekly conference call with reporters on Wednesday, "they wouldn't be in crisis mode trying to address it now."

Nelson offered his latest assessment as state lawmakers sift through various approaches to state pipeline authority and as federal officials consider whether to declare the proposed 36-inch connection between the oil sands of Alberta and refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast in the national interest.

In responding to questions, Nelson said he wasn't ready to buy into all the details of a flurry of recent news reports about the way President Obama and the State Department have handled the pending presidential permit for the TransCanada project.

That includes coverage by Business Week and Bloomberg News citing anonymous sources and asserting that State Department officials might be reweighing their choice of the Sandhills route for the pipeline in Nebraska.

"It did sound positive and perhaps they are," said Nelson, who wants the route changed. But he also described the possibility of the State Department reweighing options as "one of the rumors floating around," and he quickly switched the focus of attention to the Legislature.

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He said it was "unfortunate that the Legislature is dealing with this now, rather than three years ago, two years ago, or even in their last session."

But he said the state should act to create what he called "a belt and suspenders approach."

If the federal government makes TransCanada change the route, "that works," Nelson said. "If it doesn't, then the state will have taken care of it."

If the Legislature doesn't act, he said, it's still up to Gov. Dave Heineman to come up with some sort of siting answer. "It's a states' rights issue, purely and simply."


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