LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman on Tuesday signed into law a bill that will restart the state review of a route for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Legislative Bill 1161 will go into effect Wednesday.
Heineman said the environmental review will be a top priority for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which should be getting a proposed corridor for routes around the groundwater-rich Sand Hills region very soon.
“Nebraska will move forward on the review process of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and any future pipelines that will create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” Heineman said in a statement.
Nebraska had authorized an expedited state review of a new route for the crude-oil pipeline during a special session of the Legislature last November.
But that review was halted in January when the Obama administration rejected a federal permit for the 1,700-mile-long, $7.6 billion project, citing a congressionally imposed early deadline for a federal review and uncertainty over the Sand Hills bypass.
The latest bill, LB 1161, was introduced to get the state's review restarted and completed, so that the Sand Hills route would be resolved when TransCanada Inc. reapplied for a presidential permit for the pipeline project.
The Keystone XL will carry 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada's tar-sands region to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Proponents say it will reduce America's reliance on oil from hostile nations and create new jobs, while opponents say it will increase gas prices in the Midwest by diverting oil from local refineries and that mining tar sands ruins the environment.
Officials with the Sierra Club of Nebraska and Bold Nebraska have said LB 1161 represents special treatment for TransCanada — an unnecessary replacement for pipeline-review bills passed during the special session. Opponents say they are considering filing a lawsuit challenging the bill as unconstitutional special legislation for one entity.
“Our lawyers are literally looking at the law right now. We should have word from them in a week,” said Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska.
A TransCanada official said proposed corridors for a pipeline route around the Sand Hills will be submitted shortly to the state.
Spokesman Shawn Howard said Nebraska's review will become part of the record submitted to the U.S. Department of State in seeking federal permission for the much-delayed pipeline.
The bill signing comes as the U.S. House is scheduled Wednesday to once again vote on whether to give immediate approval of the project, which has split Washington over issues of jobs, energy policy and the environment.
House Republicans have included the pipeline issue in a highway spending bill after a similar maneuver failed earlier this year.
TransCanada also announced Tuesday that it was getting ready to restart the flow in its existing crude-oil pipeline that crosses eastern Nebraska, the Keystone.
Howard said a mechanical “pig” that inspects the pipeline got stuck inside the pipeline a month ago. Oil continued to flow until recently, he said, when the pipeline was shut down to remove the damaged equipment.
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