The final tally: five pipeline proposals

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November 4th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – Two more proposals to regulate oil pipelines were submitted to the Legislature Thursday, as lawmakers wrapped up the first phase of their special session.

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Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm introduced a proposal that would exclude oil pipelines from certain areas of the state. Those areas include the Sandhills, the watersheds of trout streams that are already protected from feedlot development, and stretches where the depth to groundwater is less than 10 feet for 10 miles or more. Haar was clear about what his bill would mean for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Thursday was the final day for Nebraska Senators to introduce bills in the special session. Hearings will begin next week. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

“They’d have to change the route, very definitely,” Haar said. “Because, right now, it goes through the Sandhills and for 65 miles of the current route, and this is according to the State Department, the groundwater is 10 feet or less from the surface.”

TransCanada has said it will take extra precautions to make its pipeline safe in shallow groundwater areas. And it has released several legal opinions questioning the legality of Nebraska passing any legislation that would force it to change its proposed route. But Haar said lawsuits may be inevitable no matter what the Legislature does, or doesn’t do.

“Now as somebody pointed out, you can sue a ham sandwich,” Haar said. “So I think nothing we pass is immune from a court challenge, from a lawsuit. But we feel …it can stand up to that lawsuit.”

Among TransCanada’s claims is that considering the time and money at stake in the project, Nebraska could be liable for billions of dollars in damages. But in an opinion written for the Sierra Club, lawyer Alan Peterson said there is no threat of damages, because the state has sovereign immunity. He said that’s different from the situation in which Nebraska had to pay more than $150 million when a judge found it allowed politics to trump science in a rejecting a nuclear waste site. Peterson was one of the lawyers who successfully sued the state in that case.

The other bill proposed Thursday, by Lincoln Senator Bill Avery, would require oil pipeline developers to post a $500 million bond to pay for landowners and counties for possible damages to land, infrastructure and natural resources. TransCanada has previously offered a $100 million bond in case it failed to clean up a spill in the Sandhills.

Hearings on all the bills introduced in this session will be held next week. Contrary to the usual procedure in special sessions, there was no bill introduced on behalf of the governor.

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