September 16, 2014

Legislature attempting jump start of Keystone XL alternative route (AUDIO)

Keystone XL pipeline/TransCanada map

An effort to restart the process of finding an alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline has gotten traction in the last few days of the legislative session.

Keystone, the subject of a special legislative session last summer, has returned to the legislature in wake of President Obama’s rejection of TransCanada’s presidential permit. The president’s actions stopped work to find an alternative route for the 36-inch oil pipeline through Nebraska.

That work had started as a result of a compromise reached between the state and TransCanada. The company agreed to re-route the pipeline away from the Sand Hills. The state contracted with HDR of Omaha to work with TransCanada and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to find an alternative route, a contract expected to cost $2 million. Congress attempted to force the president to approve the permit. The president refused. Confusion clouded the project.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion sponsored LB 1161 as a way to jump start the stalled project in Nebraska. Yet, the measure ran into difficulty in the legislature as some charged TransCanada was getting special treatment and that the legislation could be challenged on the basis that it was targeted to benefit only one company.

Some opponents sought to return the bill back to committee, a death knell this late in the session. Much discussion took place and changes were made the motion to recommit to the committee withdrawn.

Not everyone agreed that all the concerns had been address. Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, during floor debate, questioned whether the legislature was acting too quickly.

“I just want to reiterate for the record that here we are on day 57 at, literally, almost the 11th hour in terms of our legislative session which only spans 60 days and from what I can tell there have been approximately three to four substantial, substantive changes put forward just in the last four hours on this bill,” Conrad stated.

But to Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte the arguments against the bill and the lobbying against it outside the chamber indicated that many opponents weren’t upfront with legislators last year when they stated they only opposed the pipeline’s route. Hansen told colleagues it’s time for the delays to end.

”Nebraska needs this pipeline. Nebraska needs the oil. It needs the refined oil that’s headed for Texas and comes back into the Midwest,” Hansen stated. “We need this. We can’t do this with renewable energy, yet.”

Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Senator Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, sponsored an amendment to address concerns about the bill. He said it simplified the state permit process, folding two processes into one. The bill now requires public hearings, limits the company’s power of eminent domain to two years and requires the company to pay the state’s cost should it abandon a project.

Langemeier told Nebraska Radio Network the legislation should allow the stalled Keystone project to begin again in Nebraska.

“Immediately upon it becoming law, TransCanada or any pipeline company would have the opportunity to apply, to go through this process,” Langemeier explained.

TransCanada proposes moving crude oil derived from western Canadian tar sands 1,700 miles to refineries on the Gulf Coast in Texas through the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:40]

AUDIO: Sen. Chris Langemeier explains changes to LB 1161 [5:40]