Pipelines and floods: What’s government’s role?
October 28th, 2011
Omaha, NE – Nebraskaâ€™s Governor calls a special session to take on a big oil company, and hundreds line up to shout down the governmentâ€™s handling of the Missouri flood. Robyn Wisch checked in with Nebraska Watchdogâ€™s Joe Jordan for an analysis of this week’s news in todayâ€™s edition of Your Government at Work.
RW: So weâ€™ve had two pretty big stories this week: The first: Governor Dave Heineman made a surprise move and called a special session to deal with pipeline legislation â€“ after first resisting the idea. And then we have hundreds of farmers and landowners along the Missouri lining up to give the Army Corps of Engineers a piece of their minds. Letâ€™s start with the Governor, what prompted the turnaround?
JJ: Robyn, I think if I knew the answer to that, Iâ€™d be in a different plateau as a reporter. Maybe itâ€™ll take a psychiatrist to figure this one out. Itâ€™s the $64,000 question. People are absolutely baffled that Governor Heineman decided to do this for a couple big reasons.
For one, just a half a dozen days ago or so, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood said he didnâ€™t think there was a need for a special session, that any legislation that got through, if something got through, would open the state to a huge lawsuit down the road filed obviously by Trans Canada. The second point is just two months ago, Governor Heineman told me, and Iâ€™m sure he told others as well, that he was opposed to calling a special session. In his words: â€˜Iâ€™m not going to spend $10,000 a day just to have a debate.â€™ Well, when the Legislature goes into special session on Tuesday thatâ€™s exactly what theyâ€™re looking at: $10,000 a day to run the session and thereâ€™s going to be a debate because right now there is clearly no consensus.
RW: And how much pressure do you think the Governor came under to call the special session? Obviously, thereâ€™s been protests, thereâ€™s been pressure from environmental lobbyists and activists. What kind of pressure do you think he was feeling?
JJ: Well, there certainly was pressure from people that are opposed to the pipeline. But at the same token, thereâ€™s pressure from the other side: major corporations in this state, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, labor unions that want this pipeline to get built because theyâ€™re convinced it would provide jobs and economic development.
So I donâ€™t know if one side was able to outweigh the other in terms of pressure trying to apply to the Governor. Usually his decisions are closely politically calculated, doesnâ€™t do anything â€œwilly nilly. But again, no one can really put a handle on it.
We raised the question the other day in Nebraska Watchdog, is he getting ready to run for U.S. Senate. Personally, I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s the case. But if he was going to run for U.S. Senate, having a special session, letting people at the state legislature hash this thing out and come to a conclusion or no conclusion, would be to his advantage, he could at least say later on, I tried but they couldnâ€™t come up with something.
RW: And letâ€™s turn to the story of the Army Corps taking a verbal beating on Monday night at their first public hearing in Omaha. Hundreds lining up to vent their frustrations. Weâ€™re going to take a listen to a piece of your interview with Jody Farhat, who heads the Missouri River Basin Management Center, where she defended the Corpsâ€™ plans for 2012. (Watch Joe Jordan’s interview below)
RW: And hereâ€™s Todd Binder, a farmer from Big Lake, Missouri, who testified Monday night, and basically said that logic isnâ€™t going to cut it:
Todd Binder: So, 113 out of 114 years are okay for 16.3 million acre feet of water, is that correct? 113 out of 114 times I run a red light, I make it. See the logic? This comes down to common sense.
RW: A lot of frustration there. What do you think people weree expecting from the Army Corps that they obviously didnâ€™t see?
JJ: I guess what they were hoping for was some way, shape or form for the Corps to indicate that next year they can do things differently. I think people are just hurt and frustrated. Many people saw their livelihoods and their homes wrecked by this flood. And those are emotions that are still obviously very raw, and the Corps pretty much had to stand there and take it at the hearing that was held in Omaha. And theyâ€™re standing it and taking it at hearings that are being held in several other states throughout the basin.
So on the one hand, the Corps is pretty much up against the wall there, and really canâ€™t make an argument. People are going to be upset, and the Corps is not going to be able to make them feel any better.
In terms of where we go from here, when the Corps stands there and says we donâ€™t think thereâ€™s going to be a major flood in 2012, itâ€™s extremely doubtful, but if there is, we donâ€™t see ourselves doing anything different than we did in 2011, that just infuriates people, who think government should be able to do something about this. The Corpsâ€™ point is that theyâ€™ve done everything they can and they canâ€™t control Mother Nature.
RW: So what I thought was kind of interesting about this week was taking a look at peopleâ€™s mindsets. With all the calls for smaller government and less spending, these are two pretty direct calls for government intervention. What do you think that says about what kind of role theyâ€™re expecting government to play in their lives?
JJ: In part, I think itâ€™s sort of when problems hit people between the eyes and in their own backyards. Itâ€™s easy to look from a distance and see a problem that doesnâ€™t affect you, and say government shouldnâ€™t have a role in that. Itâ€™s a little different when it does affect you and youâ€™re not sure where to go for help, and maybe government is the only vestige you can find to give you a helping hand. And then you go to government and say youâ€™ve got to do something because no one else will, sort of the help of last resort. And if the governmentâ€™s not going to step up, then I think people get upset, because they donâ€™t know where else to turn.
RW: Well, weâ€™ll keep watching these stories and see how they turn out. Joe Jordan, with Nebraska Watchdog, thanks for joining us.
JJ: Thank you, Robyn. I appreciate it.
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