LINCOLN — State lawmakers gave resounding, 44-5 final approval Wednesday to a bill that seeks to restart a state review of the controversial Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.
Legislative Bill 1161 now heads to Gov. Dave Heineman, who has said he will sign the measure into law.
Two supporters, State Sens. Jim Smith of Papillion and Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, both said the measure "strengthened" pipeline review bills passed during the special session by requiring a public hearing, limiting the use of eminent domain to two years and requiring pipeline companies such as TransCanada, rather than taxpayers, to pay for environmental reviews.
That is expected to save Nebraska about $2 million.
Langemeier, chairman of the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee, said lawmakers "bent over backwards" to address concerns raised by opponents of the pipeline.
That was a response to criticism Tuesday from groups such as the Nebraska Sierra Club and BOLD Nebraska that LB 1161 would result in a "rubber stamp" of TransCanada's proposed new route that bypasses the state's groundwater-rich Sand Hills region.
The groups also said the bill likely will generate a lawsuit alleging conflict of interest because it puts the governor, who has stated that he supports the pipeline, in charge of approving the new route.
Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, one of the "no" votes on LB 1161, said the bill will give Nebraskans a voice on pipeline routes that they didn't have before, but he predicted that lawsuits will lengthen delay of the pipeline project.
The bill allows the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and its contractor, HDR of Omaha, to resume an environmental review. The review was halted when the Obama administration denied a federal permit for the pipeline, citing a hasty deadline set by Congress and uncertainty over a route around the Sand Hills.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for pipeline developer TransCanada, said that the "real interests" of Nebraskans will be represented in the review and that the company will soon present its proposed "corridor" for potential routes avoiding the Sand Hills.
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