Pipeline bill gets boost


May 12th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – It looks like the Legislature may act on pipeline legislation this year after all.

After a protest at the Capitol Thursday, lawmakers advanced a bill to place watered-down regulations on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Watchdog)

Legislation to regulate oil pipelines has been stuck for months in the Natural Resources Committee. TransCanada wants to build a pipeline through the Sandhills to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Supporters say it will provide a friendly source of oil, jobs and taxes. Critics say it could leak into the Ogallala Aquifer.

TransCanada has said state regulation would merely duplicate federal regulation. But critics want state lawmakers to act. About 100 people rallied in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday to deliver that message. Susan Luebbe, a rancher and along the proposed pipeline route in Holt County, urged the Natural Resources Committee to advance a bill for the full Legislature to consider.

“I do not want this pipeline built here or anywhere else, period,” Luebbe said. “I am now asking you to help us in case life doesn’t go my way. Please use your powers that the people gave you and help protect the sand, our water and our livelihood of the people of Nebraska, by passing this liability bill, LB629, on t the floor.”
Later in the day, the committee did advance the bill, but in a significantly scaled back version. Originally, Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids had proposed holding pipeline companies strictly liable for economic and other damages if the pipeline leaks. Under the amended version, they would be financially responsible only for reclamation: restoring the land as closely as “reasonably practicable” to its condition before the pipeline was built. The companies would not have to pay to the extent that another party was determined to be responsible.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Senator Chris Langemeier said the committee had been wating for Sullivan to propose acceptable language, and that public pressure like the rally had not played a role.

“We’ve been working on this for quite some time,” Langemeier said. “So really, the rally has no relevance.”
Sullivan said she’s glad the committee advanced something, and she won’t try to amend the bill further.

“I was committed to this from the get-go, and I wasn’t going to let up,” she said. “I’m just very pleased that the committee saw that they were going to go forward with this. It’s a small step, but it’s an important step.”

With only 11 days left in the legislative session, Speaker Mike Flood said it would be a “tight fit” to schedule the bill for the three rounds of consideration it would need to pass this year. However, he said, it is “definitely” possible.

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