Fiery pipeline debate a certainty - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 1:00 am / Updated at 12:01 pm
Fiery pipeline debate a certainty

LINCOLN — Nebraskans will get a full-fledged legislative debate on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

But whether that discussion results in any laws that might reroute the massive crude-oil project around the state's unique Sand Hills is far from certain.

A legislative committee on Wednesday voted 7-1 to advance a pipeline routing bill to all 49 lawmakers, even though four members of the Natural Resources Committee said they didn't support the proposal.

The vote was described as a way to allow a public debate during the Legislature's special session while sidestepping, for now, conflicting legal opinions about whether Nebraska can influence the routing of the $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline after three years of federal review.

That will be slugged out beginning Monday, when first-round debate begins.

"The people of Nebraska are paying $10,000 a day for us to be down here. They expect a debate," said State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature. "It's going to be a debate like we've never seen before."

Gov. Dave Heineman, who has declined to comment about the specific proposals, endorsed the move to bring a bill to the floor for debate.

“Yesterday the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee made a very important decision when it advanced pipeline siting legislation to the full Legislature for debate. I appreciate the extensive discussion that went into making this decision,” he said in a statement released Thursday.

“The issue of pipeline siting legislation deserves a thoughtful and thorough debate by the full Legislature. Sen. Langemeier’s bill, LB 4, is a good starting point for the discussion. I want to commend Nebraskans for sharing their thoughts and concerns at the Legislature’s committee hearings this week. Their comments were serious and sincere.”

A step was also taken Thursday to try to unravel the legal confusion. Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley requested a legal opinion from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, saying it would be an important, “impartial” analysis of the bill advanced Wednesday night.

“It’s truly amazing to me that we could come up with five legal opinions that all give quality arguments on both sides of this issue,” Hadley said.

The bill was advanced amid growing indications that the State Department might put off a decision on the pipeline for 12 to 18 months.

The vote capped three long days of public hearings in which tears, passion and frustration surfaced frequently.

During the hearings, representatives of pipeline developer TransCanada argued that all pipeline bills introduced in the special session were "unconstitutional, unfair and unnecessary" and would leave Nebraska vulnerable to expensive legal damages.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the Sierra Club of Nebraska and another environmental group, Bold Nebraska, said the state has the right to protect its natural resources and should do so now — before an anticipated end-of-the-year decision on the project by the State Department.

The special session was sparked by concerns that the 36-inch, high-pressure pipeline would leak and contaminate the lakes and shallow groundwater that is common in the Sand Hills, an ecologically fragile area of grass-covered sand dunes in north-central Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman, who supports a route that bypasses the Sand Hills and does not threaten the underlying Ogallala Aquifer, called lawmakers back into session, saying there may be a narrow legal window for the state to pass routing legislation.

Under the bill advanced Wednesday night, Heineman would get a chance to order a new route.

Legislative Bill 4 would require a review of any pipeline route by a 12-member committee of state and county officials and landowners. Within 60 days, they would recommend whether to approve or reject a pipeline's path.

The governor would then have 30 days to issue a final ruling.

The process was described as streamlined, so as to avoid legal claims that state regulations would violate the U.S. Constitution's interstate commerce clause by placing an undue burden on pipeline companies.

The bill also clarifies that pipeline companies cannot use eminent domain until they get state approval.

Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has said it makes sense to put the state's highest elected official in charge of such a decision.

"This is a good starting point," said Langemeier. "At the end of the day, we might all say we still can't thread that (legal) needle."

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion was the only "no" vote on advancing the bill, saying he had legal concerns about passing routing legislation that affected the Keystone XL project and giving the decision to a governor who opposes the route.

It's an issue that has drawn more controversy in Nebraska than any other state being crossed by the pipeline, sparking a string of environmental protests in Washington, D.C.

"We have the eyes of everyone, not just Nebraska but the nation, looking at us," Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said. "If we would kill the bill in committee, people would be able to question the integrity of this Legislature."

Flood said LB 4 faces a "steep burden" in gathering support from 33 lawmakers — the number needed to enact a law immediately.

For the first time during the special session, some landowners testified that they had positive dealings with TransCanada and felt comfortable about a pipeline crossing their land.

"Some of it comes from knowing we need the oil as a country. Somebody's got to make that sacrifice," said Curt Carlson, who owns land in Hamilton and Merrick Counties.

Contact the writer:

402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

Contact the writer: Paul Hammel

paul.hammel@owh.com    |   402-473-9584    |  

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues and helps coordinate the same.

PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »