Watered down pipeline bill eases ahead

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May 19th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – A watered-down pipeline bill has eased ahead in the Nebraska Unicameral.

Sen. Kate Sullivan's original bill would have made TransCanada financially liable for any damages incurred from an oil pipeline leak. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

After months of public controversy and legislative inaction, not a single senator voted against Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan’s pipeline bill. It was introduced after TransCanada announced plans for a pipeline carrying tar sands from Alberta to Texas through the Sandhills and over the Ogalalla Aquifer. Sullivan’s original bill would have held pipeline companies strictly liable for damages if oil leaks. After the Natural Resources Committee refused to advance the bill, Sullivan agreed to scale back her proposal. Now, it would require pipeline companies to restore the land, and makes no mention of economic damages. It also doesn’t say anything about what happens to the pipeline after it’s no longer used. Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop asked Sullivan about that.

“Right now we’re at the beginning of the process, and they haven’t put the pipe in the ground,” he said. “Isn’t that the time to set up what we should do at the end of the useful life of the pipe, rather than legislate it in the middle of the life of the pipe?”

“In a perfect world, yes,” Sullivan responded. “And as I said, I did what I could in terms of getting something out here on the floor.”

Lincoln Senator Tony Fulton said he has friends who’ve been threatened with eminent domain if they didn’t let TransCanada build the pipeline through their land. Fulton said even though the U.S. State Department decides whether to grant TransCanada a permit, the Legislature has a role.

“We speak on behalf of Nebraska,” he said. “And we have some skin in this game.”

“We’re a sovereign state and we should not be pushed around by the Secretary of State, or a company from another country, or any company for that matter,” Fulton added.

Sen. Tyson Larson says TransCanada's first pipeline built in his district near O'Neill, Nebraska has brought benefits to his community. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said a pipeline already built by TransCanada east of the Sandhills has brought benefits. “In my district there has been positive feedback from the first pipeline construction,” Larson said. “Constituents in Cedar County have talked about the increased economic activity and the responsible practices of TransCanada.”

Lincoln Senator Bill Avery asked what he said was a rhetorical question. “Is this the best we can do?” he asked. “Or is it the most we’re willing to do?”

Avery and others faulted the bill for not dealing with liability and siting. Other senators said it’s a start. Senator LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth used an historical analogy. “I guess the first thing I think of is a quote from Winston Churchill after the British won the battle of el Alemain,” Louden said. “He said this isn’t the end, and it isn’t the beginning, but it is the end of the beginning.”

Senators then voted 47-0 to first-round approval of the bill.

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