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Archive for Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nebraska governor doesn’t want special legislative session to discuss oil pipeline

August 4, 2011

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— A state lawmaker who wants a special session to address concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route should have passed a bill when the Legislature was convened earlier this year, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Thursday.

Heineman, a Republican, told reporters he doesn't see the need for a special session, despite an op-ed piece by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar that was published Wednesday in The Omaha World-Herald.

Haar argues in the article that lawmakers should convene a special session to protect Nebraska's Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer from potential environmental threats. The Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature said earlier confusion about the state's authority over the tar sands oil pipeline has been clarified to show states' well-established power to regulate its route within their borders.

Heineman said proposals introduced by pipeline critics during this year's session lacked the support to advance through the one-house Legislature. Lawmakers and the governor did pass one watered-down bill during the session, related to land reclamation costs, but critics said it failed to address their main concerns.

"They should have acted during the legislative session if they wanted a bill on siting, and they didn't act because they didn't have the votes," Heineman said. "It's my understanding in talking to the Speaker (of the Legislature) and others that not much has changed. So, it doesn't make much sense to have a special session to the tune of $10,000 a day of taxpayer money when they're not likely to act."

TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL project is designed to carry oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Calgary-based TransCanada submitted its Keystone XL project for State Department review in late 2008. The State Department has authority over the pipeline because it crosses an international boundary.

The U.S. State Department has said it would decide the project's fate by the end of 2011. Some Congressional Republicans want a Nov. 1 deadline.

Haar did not immediately return messages left on his office and cell phones.

"Even without a congressional mandate, a decision could be forthcoming before the Legislature could enact protective legislation," Haar wrote in the op-ed. "We do not, however, need to be victims to TransCanada and the State Department's year-end timeline."

Heineman said pipeline critics should lobby federal regulators and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat who is considered vulnerable in the 2012 election. Nelson has said responsibility for the pipe's route falls squarely on the state.

Heineman cited an Oct. 12 letter his office sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging regulators to carefully examine the pipeline proposal. In the letter, the governor encourages Clinton to make sure "an appropriate and safe route is chosen," but does not explicitly say the pipeline should be moved.

Asked on Thursday whether he thought the proposed route should be relocated, the governor replied: "I think most Nebraskans would prefer that — and I would agree with that."

"I've tried to share my concerns with them," he later added. "I just don't have the sense that the president is listening to the governor of Nebraska."

Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein said Clinton's office has not responded to the letter.

Five of the Legislature's 49 state senators, including Haar, signed a letter in May asking the State Department to delay the decision on whether to approve the tar-sands oil pipeline until May. The other senators were Colby Coash of Lincoln, Annette Dubas of Fullerton, Tony Fulton of Lincoln and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids.

Environmental groups have raised concerns that the pipeline could foul underground and surface water supplies, increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. They also have speculated about what they consider inadequate pipeline safety and emergency spill responses.

Pipeline critics said the public cost of a pipeline leak would outweigh the taxpayer dollars spent on a special session. In a statement, the left-leaning group Bold Nebraska said Heineman's response was unacceptable.

"The real waste of taxpayer money is when we all have to foot the bill after the Keystone XL leaks, and TransCanada doesn't have to pay a cent because we have zero state regulations," Jane Kleeb, the group's executive director, said in a written statement.

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