Grim outlook for pipeline opponents


October 20th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood is recommending against a special session to deal with pipeline legislation. But opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline through the Sandhills vow to fight on.

Flood’s recommendation came in a letter Wednesday to his fellow senators. It follows a proposal submitted to Flood on Tuesday by TransCanada, the company planning to build the pipeline, that reiterated the company’s position against re-routing the pipeline, but offered a number of safety assurances designed to minimize damage in the event of a spill.

Speaker Mike Flood came out against calling a special session in the Legislature to deal with the Keystone pipeline, dealing a significant blow to opponents. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

In his letter, Flood said he agrees with critics who would prefer that TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline not follow the proposed route through the Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. But the speaker said after reviewing the proposed legislation from Sen. Annette Dubas, which would give the Nebraska Public Service Commission power to approve or disapprove proposed pipeline routes, and getting a memo from his legal counsel, Matt Boever, he thinks it’s too late to pass legislation affecting this project.

“I think members of the legislature want to be responsive,” Flood said. “But they don’t want to be irresponsible. And I think passing a law similar to what Sen. Dubas has suggested would put the state in legal jeopardy.”

“I haven’t had the chance (Wednesday) morning to talk as many members as I would like,” Flood continued, “but my sense is, if there’s an opinion that we can’t act, substantively, as relates to this pipeline, that we should wait until January.”

Flood said there are two main legal problems with the proposed legislation. One is that federal law appears to preempt state law when it comes to regulating pipeline safety. The other is that the delay to the Keystone XL project by enacting state legislation now could be seen as interfering with interstate commerce.

The speaker’s recommendation against a special session drew swift condemnation from Jane Kleeb of the group BOLD Nebraska, one of the pipeline’s leading critics.

The Keystone pipeline has been a hot-button issue in Nebraska. Here, opponents rallied outside the Pershing Center in Lincoln in September. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

“It is crystal clear to me that if our current elected officials do nothing, if they continue to kick the can to each other and point fingers, that Nebraskans in the next election will absolutely make sure they are electing people who will stand up to big corporations like TransCanada, and stand up for Nebraska landowners instead,” Kleeb said. “Because we will not accept this reckless disregard from our elected officials any more.”

Flood said he thinks Nebraska should have a law on pipeline siting, adding that in retrospect, it would have been better off to have had one five years ago. But he said groups including BOLD Nebraska have been misleading Nebraskans by suggesting that the Legislature could simply hold a special session and stop the pipeline.

“We need people in this state, we need elected officials in this state, that will stand up and say ‘This is the reality,’” Flood said. “As emotional as it is, and as politically popular as it is, you have to tell people what you can actually accomplish. And if there’s another way to look at this that I haven’t seen, I’m all for it.”

Other ways to look at it, from a legal perspective, are in the works. Sen. Ken Haar, who’s been working with Dubas and others on special session legislation, said there’s still time to act.

“I agree that we have to have a siting law for crude oil pipelines and our legal team disagrees that it’s too late to do it now before the end of the year,” Haar said. “We believe that if we wait until the end of the year, then it will be too late to apply it to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.”

But TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard suggested that with a three-year federal review nearing its end, it would be unfair for the state to add further delay. Howard praised Flood for his leadership and his letter.

“His words speak for themselves,” Howard said. “He’s very clear. He’s clearly done a great deal of research on the legal issues and other issues that could impact the state. And hopefully now, cooler heads will prevail and people will take the time to read his letter and the reasons behind it.”

Read the Speaker’s letter in full here.

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