A state lawmaker who wants a special session to address concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route should have passed a bill when the Legislature was convened earlier this year, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Thursday.
Heineman, a Republican, told reporters he doesn't see the need for a special session despite Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar's call for one.
Haar argued that lawmakers should convene a special session to protect Nebraska's Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer from potential environmental threats. The Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature said earlier confusion about the state's authority over the tar sands oil pipeline has been clarified to show states' well-established power to regulate its route within their borders.
Heineman said proposals introduced by pipeline critics during this year's session lacked the support to advance through the one-house Legislature. Lawmakers and the governor did pass one watered-down bill during the session related to land reclamation costs, but critics said it failed to address their main concerns.
"They should have acted during the legislative session if they wanted a bill on siting, and they didn't act because they didn't have the votes," Heineman said. "It's my understanding in talking to the speaker (of the Legislature) and others that not much has changed. So it doesn't make much sense to have a special session to the tune of $10,000 a day of taxpayer money when they're not likely to act."
TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL project is designed to carry oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Calgary-based TransCanada submitted its Keystone XL project for State Department review in late 2008. The State Department has authority over the pipeline because it crosses an international boundary.
The U.S. State Department has said it would decide the project's fate by the end of 2011. Some congressional Republicans want a Nov. 1 deadline.
Heineman said Sen. Ben Nelson should call his "best friends" President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to change the pipe's path. He said the president may owe Nelson for his key 60th vote to prevent Senate filibustering on Obama's health care law.
"Maybe that's how he deals with the Legislature, but what the governor is suggesting is illegal," Nelson said in a statement. "The state makes the routing decisions. The governor needs to stop playing politics and decide where he wants the pipeline route to be."
Heineman cited an Oct. 12 letter his office sent to Secretary of State Clinton, urging regulators to carefully examine the pipeline proposal. In the letter, the governor encourages Clinton to make sure "an appropriate and safe route is chosen," but does not explicitly say the pipeline should be moved.
Asked on Thursday whether he thought the proposed route should be relocated, the governor replied: "I think most Nebraskans would prefer that — and I would agree with that."
"I've tried to share my concerns with them," he later added. "I just don't have the sense that the president is listening to the governor of Nebraska."
Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein said Clinton's office has not responded to the letter.
Five of the Legislature's 49 state senators, including Haar, signed a letter in May asking the State Department to delay the decision on whether to approve the tar-sands oil pipeline until May. The other senators were Colby Coash of Lincoln, Annette Dubas of Fullerton, Tony Fulton of Lincoln and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids.