LINCOLN — Boone County farmers Don and Wanda Loseke opened a letter last summer from a Canadian company looking to run an oil pipeline through their land.
It was seven months before Nebraska’s governor would approve the new route for the Keystone XL pipeline. The federal government has yet to decide on a permit for the controversial project.
On Tuesday, Sherry Loseke of Omaha testified for her parents in support of a bill that would prevent oil pipeline companies from starting land negotiations until after they receive government approval.
“I think there has been a remarkable lack of concern for landowners,” she told Judiciary Committee members.
Other landowners along the new proposed route and former route also testified in support of the bill. So did a representative for the Nebraska Public Power District and the Lincoln Electric System.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, who has previously attempted to amend the state’s eminent domain law, said this time he worked in advance with agencies who have objected in the past. He told the committee that Legislative Bill 533 addresses their concerns while attempting to better inform landowners of their rights when it comes to eminent domain.
The bill would require oil pipeline builders to notify landowners in writing 10 days before starting easement negotiations. The notice must contain information about the project, including identification of required permits and the property owner’s legal rights.
“Nebraska landowners deserve as much protection as we can afford,” Avery said, adding that several landowners have reported receiving company letters threatening to take their land if they don’t sign a compensation agreement.
TransCanada did not take a position on the bill, but spokesman Shawn Howard said the company follows state law when negotiating land easements. That includes making landowners aware that eminent domain will be used if a compensation agreement can’t be reached.
“I’m not sure how that would be bullying,” Howard said.
A pair of lobbyists representing natural gas companies objected to the bill, saying the timing of notifications appears to conflict with federal regulations for their industry. But they offered to help draft amendments to address their concerns.
The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Houston area. Environmentalists and some landowners oppose the project, fearing that spills could contaminate the state’s underground water supplies and rivers. Labor groups have joined the oil industry to support the project, saying it will create construction jobs and provide a new supply of oil from a friendly trade partner.
A 2,000-page analysis of the second route by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality concluded that a pipeline spill would not cause widespread groundwater contamination. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved the new route Jan. 22.
Last week, a preliminary analysis released by the U.S. State Department said a spill would not “extensively affect” the quality of Nebraska’s portion of the underground Ogallala Aquifer.
The State Department will hold a 45-day public comment period for the analysis, which will include a public hearing to be scheduled in Nebraska.
The state law that gave Heineman authority to approve the pipeline route also has been challenged by a landowner lawsuit that will likely go to trial this summer in Lancaster County District Court.
Several landowners who testified Tuesday said TransCanada threatened to take away their land with eminent domain if they didn’t agree to a payment offer from the company.
The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday. Nor has it taken action on a related eminent domain measure, LB 152, heard earlier in the session.
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