April 24, 2014

Encampment in Washington D.C. protests Keystone XL pipeline

Leaders of a state advocacy group are joining Native Americans and farmers and ranchers from Nebraska in Washington D.C. this week to protest the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Ben Gotschall is spokesman for BOLD Nebraska and says members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance rode horses into the nation’s capitol on Tuesday to kick-off their demonstration and to speak out for the environment.

Gotschall says, “A weeklong series of events will end with a group of folks presenting a teepee to the Smithsonian museum, dedicated to President Obama’s committment to protecting the environment.”

He says they’re hoping to draw more national attention to the potentially catastrophic environmental damage from the Tar Sands pipeline with their very visible protest.

“It’ll be a weeklong encampment on the National Mall of tribal leaders and farmers and ranchers,” Gotschall says. “It’ll get some attention. There’s not often a teepee camp in the nation’s capitol.”

Now that the comment period has been extended on the pipeline, Gotschall is hoping they’ll be able to convince others to join them in their opposition to TransCanada’s project.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton

Gov. Heineman sees no need to delay Keystone XL decision (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman says he’s very disappointed by the latest delay on a decision about the Keystone XL oil pipeline and rejects the suggestion that legal issues in Nebraska should prevent the State Department from moving forward.

Heineman says there just doesn’t need to be any more delays.

“It’s time for a yes or no decision on the Keystone pipeline,” Heineman tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.

Yet, the State Department has delayed again its decision on the route, claiming legal issues in Nebraska need to be resolved first.

The latest delay on Keystone seemingly contradicts President Barack Obama’s assurance in late February that a decision on Keystone would be make in a couple of months. Obama reportedly made the remark during a meeting with governors after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested the president should grant TransCanada’s presidential permit. [Read earlier story]

Heineman was in attendance and reported that Obama told the governors he would be making a decision on Keystone in the next couple of months, a decision that would make some happy and some unhappy. The president declined to elaborate.

Heineman says the president knew the lawsuit had been filed in Nebraska when he spoke with the governors.

“Well, the fact of the matter is when the president told all the governors and myself (about the timeframe) he knew exactly what was going on in Nebraska, that lawsuit was going on, and he said he was going to make a decision and now he’s not and I wish he would explain why,” Heineman says.

TransCanada has applied for a presidential permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. It would connect with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is operating from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas.

The northern portion of Keystone XL is estimated to cost $5.4 billion. It would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude from Canada to the refineries.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of LB 1161, passed in 2012 by the Unicameral, upon which Heineman based his decision to approve the Keystone XL route through Nebraska.

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled it unconstitutional, stating the Nebraska Constitution gives exclusive regulatory control over pipeline companies, such as TransCanada, to the Nebraska Public Service Commission and that the Unicameral could not transfer that power to the governor.

Attorney General Jon Bruning immediately filed an appeal of the ruling.

The lawsuit is expected to be decided by the Nebraska Supreme Court either late this year or early next year.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

It will take a very long time to resolve Keystone XL legal issues (AUDIO)

If State Department officials want to wait until Nebraska legal issues are resolved to make a recommendation on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, they will be waiting quite a long time.

A lawsuit filed by landowners challenges the constitutionality of a 2012 law that gave Gov. Dave Heineman the authority to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline route through Nebraska.

Attorney Dave Domina, a Democratic candidate for US Senate, represents the landowners.

“There are several constitutional issues that will be presented to the Supreme Court. They all come down to this: was the procedure used by the governor to approve the route legal or illegal?”

The lawsuit challenges the 2012 law approved by the legislature that gives the governor the authority to approve pipeline routes through the state. The suit contends the law violates the state constitution that gives that authority to the Public Service Commission. Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy sided with the landowners and ruled the law unconstitutional.

The legislature approved the 2012 law as a follow-up to an agreement reached with TransCanada during a special legislative session in 2011. LB 1161 gave the governor authority to approve or reject pipeline routes through the state after the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality reviewed proposed routes and made a recommendation.

Judge Stacy ruled the Nebraska State Constitution gives exclusive regulatory control over pipeline companies, such as TransCanada, to the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Gov. Heineman had notified President Barack Obama that Nebraska legal procedures concerning the route Keystone XL will take through the state have been satisfied. Domina contends the judge’s ruling makes the governor’s assertion suspect.

Domina says it is understandable that the State Department doesn’t want to move forward until the legal process on the route has been completed.

Completion will likely take some time.

Domina anticipates that he will have to submit briefs to the Nebraska Supreme Court in late July at the earliest, after the Attorney General’s office submits its briefs.

On that schedule, oral arguments will likely occur in September or October. A decision by the state Supreme Court could take weeks or months.

“It will be a while. I don’t think there will be any construction in 2014,” Domina tells Nebraska Radio Network.

The southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas, is operating.

The northern portion of Keystone XL which would run through Nebraska is estimated to cost $5.4 billion. It would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude from Canada to the refineries.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Chambers extracts his pound of flesh on final day (AUDIO)

Sen. Ernie Chambers

Sen. Ernie Chambers gestures during his delaying tactics on final day of the legislative session

State lawmakers wouldn’t give him what he wanted, so Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha made them pay on the last day of the legislative session.

Chambers, angry that twice state legislators failed to give him the votes to overturn a veto of his bill to ban the hunting of mountain lions, slowed legislative work to a crawl on the 60th day of the 60-day legislative session.

“What some think was the end of the war will turn out to be what is called a Pyrrhic victory. You waste all of your resources and you win a battle, but you have so weakened yourself that you then lose the war.,” Chambers told the legislature, adding a warning, “The war is not over.”

Chambers vowed to continue his effort to ban the hunting of mountain lions during next year’s legislative session.

Chambers turned what should have been a quick succession of final votes into a day-long affair, speaking on each bill before allowing them to come to a final vote.

Chambers’ bill to ban mountain lion hunts, LB 671, initially passed on a 31-5 vote. Opposition mounted against the measure, though. An agreement ended a threatened filibuster against on final reading, a rarity in the Unicameral. It eventually passed on a 28-13 vote, two votes short of the total needed to override a veto.

Chambers twice moved to override the veto and twice fell just short of the votes needed. On the final try, Chambers claimed he had been deceived by legislators who promised him to vote to override the veto, but failed to live up to their promises.

The legislature gave authorization to the Game and Parks Commission to hold mountain lion hunts in 2012 on a 49-0 vote.

Two male mountain lions were taken in the first hunt authorized by Game and Parks this year.

One hunter paid more than $13,000 for one permit. A teen-ager won the second permit through a lottery.

The second hunt ended when a female mountain lion was taken.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Water sustainability bill signed into law by Gov. Heineman (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

A bill designed to maintain Nebraska’s greatest natural resource, its water, has been signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Heineman signed into law LB 1098, the water sustainability bill, which he says should insure that Nebraska has the water it needs both for agricultural and city uses for years to come.

“This is a difficult and challenging issue and this legislation is aimed at planning for better future water use in our state,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference. “We’ll also be expanding the Natural Resources Commission from 16 members to 27 members. The commission will include a diversity of water users in our state, including ground water and surface water irrigators, public power districts, and wildlife conservation groups as well as others involved in agriculture.”

The bill was an outgrowth of the work of the Water Sustainability Task Force which worked through the second half of last year.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, a Republican candidate for governor, sponsored the bill that created the task force a year ago and, this year, sponsored the legislation that grew from its work.

“And I believe that 1098 will be remembered as a bill that helped make water sustainability a possibility for generations to come,” Carlson says.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the bill will spur basin-wide planning for both groundwater and surface irrigation for the vast Republican River Basin.

“From the Colorado line all the way down to almost Superior, Nebraska; that’s a huge area in this state. And it will allow everybody to sit down at the same table and work out a solution,” Christensen says.

The law aims to address water management, water quality, and flood control issues. It also creates the Water Sustainability Fund.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds a news conference to sign LB 1098. [8 min.]