Heineman steps up efforts to stay on top of pipeline


October 5th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – A day after legislation was unveiled to regulate oil pipeline routing in Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman stepped up his efforts to show he’s on top of the issue. In an interview with NET News, the governor reinforced his call for state senators to declare where they stand.

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On Monday, State Sen. Annette DuBas of Fullerton outlined proposed legislation to give Nebraska’s Public Service Commission the ability to approve or disapprove oil pipelines proposed for the state. On Tuesday, in an interview with NET News, the governor said he thinks the state could exercise limited authority over pipeline siting. But he he’s not willing to call a special session, at least for now, when only a handful of senators have indicated support.

Sen. Dubas of Fullerton is trying to gather support in the Legislature for a proposal to give Nebraska siting authority over oil pipelines. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

NET’s Fred Knapp asked the governor, who has previously criticized some senators in the Democratic minority for not taking a position on the issue, about his role in generating support for action.

FK: “Are you willing to weigh in with senators who would listen to you? What about all the supporters you have in the Legislature – wouldn’t it make a difference if you were to start making calls and try to persuade them to support legislation?”

“I think it is fair to say that members of both parties in the Legislature right now, the silence is deafening,” Heineman said. “Thirty two of them told the Omaha World-Herald they don’t know where they stand on this issue yet. It is time for them to say yes, or no, regardless of party.”

The governor said if the state is going to do anything, senators need to step up. But he didn’t seem to envision a more active role himself.

“I think it is still fair to say based on some contact I had yesterday (Monday), you can’t get this bill out of the Natural Resources Committee yet,” he said. “So legislators need to talk to their fellow senators about where they stand and what they’re willing to do.”

In an interview with NET News, Gov. Heineman said he will work with the Legislature on a siting proposal, if the support is there. (Photo courtesy State of Nebraska)

FK: “Do you think that it should come out of the Natural Resources Committee, and are you willing to take leadership role of calling the members of that committee and saying ”Hey, I think we should do this”?

“I think every member of that committee knows exactly where I stand,” he said. “I think I’ve made it abundantly clear. But again, legislation starts in the Legislature, then it gets over to my desk, and I get to sign or veto it.”

Even if the Legislature gave the PSC authority over pipelines, Heineman said, the Keystone XL proposal might still be approved.

“This much I’m sure of. If the President of the United States says ‘no’ to this permit, it won’t be built over the aquifer,” Heineman said. “They’ll change the route. Or he calls TransCanada in, and says ‘I’m only going to give you this permit if you change the route.’ If one of those two situation(s) occurs, we will get this pipeline out of the Sandhills over the Ogallala aquifer. That much there’s no question about. Passing a siting law may or may not get the job done.”

FK: “Am I correctly interpreting you to say that would be a worthwhile effort if the support is there?”

“If the support is there, then I’m willing to work with the Legislature,” Heineman said. “But right now, quite honestly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all, most senators kind of want to run and hide from this issue.”

“We’re elected to take positions on these issues,” he added. “his is one of the most serious and important issues this state faces. Who would want to risk an oil spill or a leak over the Ogallala aquifer? I don’t. And so they ought to tell us where they stand.”

FK: “Couldn’t you force them to tell us where they stand by calling a special session?”

“How’s that going to force them if you can’t even get it out of committee?” Heineman responded. “If they don’t support it, all we’ll do is waste $10,000 a day, what — be in session 60 days, waste $600,000 and no action?”

“I certainly haven’t called a special session on the budget, or safe haven, or any other issue that we didn’t have a pretty good idea that we were going to move forward on the issue,” Heineman said, “that there was going to be a positive outcome. So far we have 32 senators who don’t even want to tell us where they stand on the issue.”

Efforts to reach Sen. Mike Flood, speaker of the Legislature, and Sen. Chris Langemeier, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, were not immediately successful.

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