A bill giving the governor authority to regulate oil pipelines will go to the full legislature for debate next week.
The Natural Resources Committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill to the floor of the Unicameral.
“This is Step One of getting a debate started,” Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, the committee chairman, told reporters after the committee meeting.
The vote came despite reservations expressed by some members of the committee about the revised version of LB4, sponsored by Langemeier.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege made the motion to advance the bill even as he told fellow committee members he might vote against the measure after the legislature debates it.
“And this is not a normal habit for me, because I don’t like to vote to advance a bill that I may not, probably won’t support on the floor,” Carlson told Nebraska Radio Network after the committee meeting. “But this is special, this is different. The people certainly expect a debate with the full legislature and I think that overrides my personal views.”
Other committee members expressed similar views; that they had reservations about the bill or any measures seeking to regulate oil pipelines. Still, they voted to advance the bill. Only Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion voted against sending the bill to the full legislature.
Gov. Dave Heineman called the legislature into special session after efforts to convince TransCanada to move the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline away from the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer proved futile. TransCanada has proposed building a $7 billion, 1,700 mile oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas refineries on the Gulf Coast. Since it travels from Canada into the United States, TransCanada needs to obtain a presidential permit before proceeding.
The action of the committee came in executive session after three days of public hearings on four oil pipeline regulation bills. The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the fifth bill filed in the special legislative session, a bill restricting the use of eminent domain. Committee member, Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, sponsors a bill, LB1, which would give oil pipeline regulations to the Public Service Commission. Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm sponsors a measure, LB5, which would place portions of the state off-limits to oil pipelines. LB6, sponsored by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, would require oil pipeline companies to obtain a $500 million indemnity bond before building a pipeline.
The committee went into executive session Wednesday evening, after taking testimony all day on the final two measures filed in the special session. The committee approved preliminary changes to Langemeier’s measure, agreeing to review a final draft just prior to the legislature convening Thursday morning at 9 o’clock.
Langemeier said his bill is a good starting point for the legislature to debate the issue. He brushed aside repeated warnings from the TransCanada legal team during the public hearings that all the bills contained constitutional problems.
When asked if he thought his bill was constitutional, Langemeier had a short reply, “I think so.”
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk praised the committee, especially members who might not support the bill, but decided to send it to the floor for debate anyway.
“To those folks who may have reservations and sent it out, they’re letting this discussion happen in front of the entire state,” Flood told reporters after the committee vote.
Flood has scheduled the debate to begin Monday.
“It’s going to be a debate like we haven’t seen before,” according to Flood, “but it will happen.”