Odds of special session add up over pipeline

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October 4th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – A state senator is proposing specific legislation to give Nebraska authority over the routing of oil pipelines. Getting it passed quickly would require a special session, but it’s still not clear whether enough senators want to come back to work on the bill.

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The proposed legislation by Sen.Annette DuBas of Fullerton would require pipeline carriers to apply to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for approval of their proposed route. The application would list information including unusually sensitive groundwater areas the pipeline would pass through. The PSC would then have to decide if the application’s in the public interest.

Sen. Annette Dubas has proposed specific legislation that would give Nebraska authority over the routing of oil pipelines. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

The proposal is similar to legislation DuBas introduced earlier this year that remained bottled up in the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee when the Legislature adjourned in June. Since then, opponents of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline through the Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer have stepped up their opposition on environmental grounds. The U.S. State Department has said it will decide on whether to recommend the president approve the pipeline before the end of the year. But Dubas said there’s still time for the state of Nebraska to act.

“I think timing is of the essence right now,” Dubas said. “But if we were able to convene a special session and have something we could all agree on, and get it done in a very short amount of time before the presidential permit is signed, I think it could impact this project, yes.”

Gov. Dave Heineman said he supports the pipeline but opposes the proposed route through the Sandhills. The governor could call the Legislature into special session to act. But he said after meeting with Dubas that she needs to take the lead in trying to persuade senators.

“She acknowledged that the ball’s in her court,” Heineman said. “And it doesn’t make sense to have a special session unless there’s support.”

DuBas said she’ll work on it. “As far as knowing where everybody’s at right now, I don’t know,” she said. “But I certainly hope to have a good take on their temperature by the end of the week.”
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who’s been promoting the idea of a special session, said he supports DuBas’ proposal. Haar said it could be a week or two before supporters decide whether to start the formal process of polling senators to see if the required two thirds would support a special session.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have announced they’ll go to court to block pipeline construction. Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity says the lawsuit will focus on problems with the State Department’s environmental review and decision-making process.

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