Public hearings kick off over pipeline regulation
November 7th, 2011
Lincoln, NE – Hearings on legislation to regulate oil pipelines began in the special session of the Legislature on Monday, with pleas for action running into arguments that none is needed.
A crowd filled the Capitol hearing room and overflowed into another as the Legislatureâ€™s Natural Resources Committee began its hearings. The first bill up was a proposal by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton. She wants to give the Nebraska Public Service Commission authority to approve or disapprove proposed pipeline routes. With TransCanadaâ€™s proposed Keystone XL pipeline up for federal approval, Dubas said itâ€™s essential for the state to act.
â€œWe cannot leave this special session without enacting effective and constitutional legislation regarding the routing of oil pipelines in our state,â€ Dubas said.
The hearing was structured so that supporters of Dubasâ€™ legislation all testified before opponents were heard. But in a press conference beforehand, opponents previewed their arguments. Among them was Robert Jones, TransCanadaâ€™s vice president of Keystone pipelines. Jones was asked what TransCanada would do if Dubasâ€™ bill (LB1) passes.
â€œIf LB1 passes as is, I would be surprised,â€ Jones said. â€œAnd I think it would be a hypothetical for me to answer.â€
â€œWe believe that the members of the Legislature are going to use sound reason and judgment, and they wonâ€™t be passing LB1 as it sits today,â€ he said.
Another opponent of the bill, Andy Black of the Association of Oil Pipelines, was more explicit. â€œAOPL believes any siting legislation should be prospective only,â€ Black said. â€œBills should not affect any project that has relied upon existing state laws or been subject to extensive federal environmental review. Adopting legislation to thwart a project at the eleventh hour would be discriminatory, punitive, and vulnerable to legal challenge.â€
But lawyer Alan Peterson, who wrote an opinion supporting the legislation for the Nebraska Chapter of the Sierra Club, downplayed any possible financial consequences. â€œThe risk in this case of losing a lawsuit doesnâ€™t have a lot of zeros on it,â€ Peterson said. â€œI donâ€™t think youâ€™d lose it.â€
Peterson said he doesnâ€™t want to â€œget into advocacyâ€ and that he wants to lay out the issues â€œfairly,â€ without â€œexaggerating, but also without underestimating.â€
â€œSure, there could be a lawsuit,â€ he said. â€œPossibly, you could lose. It might well be worth the fight.â€
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, a member of the Natural Resources Committee, said one pipeline has been operating across the southern portion of the state since 1952 without significant safety problems. â€œThe Platte pipeline does cross, east to west, the full length of the Ogallala Aquifer,â€ he said. â€œAnd if you want to stay to the soils map, and go to Lincoln County, itâ€™s identical to some of the areas of the Sandhills that weâ€™re looking at here.â€
Christensen said the Platte pipeline carries up to 162,000 barrels a day. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry an estimated 700,000 barrels.
Susan Seacrest, founder and former head of the Groundwater Foundation, a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization for groundwater, said that raises the stakes. â€œThis is a very high risk operation,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s a very large pipeline. Itâ€™s going through a very large part of our state through an aquifer that we all agree is critically important to our identity of our state, and to who we are as a state, and to the economic future of our state.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think anybody could argue that the risks arenâ€™t there,â€ she said. â€œSen. Dubasâ€™s bill gives us another tool in our toolbox.â€
Dubasâ€™s bill is one of five proposals that have been submitted on the pipeline issue. Hearings are scheduled to continue for the next two days.
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