LINCOLN — Results of a new poll sponsored by a group opposing the Keystone XL crude-oil pipeline should convince state senators as well as Gov. Dave Heineman that a special session should be called on the controversial issue, advocates said Monday.
The poll, commissioned by Bold Nebraska, indicated that 64 percent of those surveyed would support adopting state regulations via the ballot box to ensure that pipeline companies are held liable for oil spills, avoid fragile areas such as the Sand Hills and take care of any other damages.
Overall, 47 percent of the 604 “likely voters” polled said they opposed the pipeline, with 33 percent supporting the project.
“The people of Nebraska want standards to protect our resources from oil pipelines. We ask the governor to respond to the will of the people and call the Legislature into session,” said Ken Winston of the Sierra Club.
If the governor fails to do that, a petition drive will be launched “very soon” to put the issue on the 2012 ballot, said Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska.
“He's been kicking the can down the road,” Kleeb said of Heineman. “He is a man. He has to look in the mirror and decide if he's going to take the right action … or continue to be the damsel in distress.”
Jeff Rauh, a spokesman for TransCanada Inc., which is seeking to build the pipeline, called the poll a “typical political push poll.”
“What the poll does not cover,” Rauh said in a statement, “is that pipelines have moved crude oil and petroleum products safely across the aquifer in Nebraska for decades. Crude oil has been safely produced through the aquifer for decades. Local experts and independent analysis demonstrate that the aquifer is safe and the route appropriate.”
The governor was traveling in Nebraska's Panhandle and unavailable for comment.
Heineman has said previously that it's up to State Sen. Ken Haar, who has called for the special legislative meeting, to line up support for it.
Haar has argued that the Legislature must pass regulations to keep the pipeline from crossing the groundwater-rich Sand Hills region before December, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to decide whether to approve the project.
Heineman has urged Clinton to reject a permit unless the pipeline route is changed to avoid the Sand Hills, but both Kleeb and Winston said he's not “all in” in his opposition if he doesn't seek passage of Nebraska regulation of pipelines.
Heineman has the power to call a special session, and governors traditionally make such decisions. But Nebraska senators can call a special session on their own if 33 of 49 lawmakers agree, a mechanism that has never been successfully used, legislative observers say.
Haar said Monday he wasn't surprised by the poll results. He said he will use them when he and other special session supporters begin polling their colleagues next week, after a bill has been drafted.
The Malcolm senator said he's sure the governor will tell him, “Show me the votes. But I feel more and more confident that we're going to be able to show the votes.”
The telephone poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners, a polling group used primarily by Democrats out of Washington, D.C. The firm surveyed 604 random, likely voters in Nebraska between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A year ago, Bold Nebraska and TransCanada released competing polls, with the opposition group finding 48 percent of Nebraskans opposed and the pipeline corporation finding 69 percent giving their support.
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