A fax from the Department of State received by the Speaker of the Legislature’s office Monday afternoon triggered the events which promise to bring to a conclusion not just the special legislative session, but a long simmering controversy in Nebraska.
Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk says he had been speaking with TransCanada executives over the weekend, in light not just of the special session but the State Department announcement that it wanted the Keystone XL pipeline route reviewed. The State Department said it wanted TransCanada to explore routes other than through the Sand Hills. It was a reversal for the federal government, which had indicated earlier it would reach a decision on TransCanada’s application for a presidential permit by the end of the year.
TransCanada has proposed building a $7 billion oil pipeline that would transport crude oil derived from western Canada tar sands 1,700 miles to refineries in Texas along the Gulf Coast.
Pressure mounted from Nebraska citizens opposed to the proposed route: through the Sand Hills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. TransCanada President for Energy and Oil Pipelines, Alex Pourbaix, says that the company has committed to moving the pipeline out of the Sand Hills. He says its virtually impossible to go through Nebraska and avoid the Ogallala, but that a route outside the Sand Hills will avoid where the aquifer is closest to the surface and should allay the fears of Nebraskans.
Flood interrupted legislative debate Monday afternoon to announce the deal reached with TransCanada. Flood proposes that the state pay for a supplemental environmental impact study to be overseen by the Department of Environmental Quality. His amendment contains a clause requiring that there be no conflict-of-interest between the firms hired by DEQ and TransCanada. Also, the legislation would require the governor to advise the federal government whether he consents to the new route proposed after the supplemental environmental study is completed.
The action doesn’t end the special session. The legislature will debate tomorrow a bill offered by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton that the Public Service Commission review oil pipeline routes. The legislation will specify that it doesn’t pertain to the Keystone XL pipeline, but only future pipelines. The Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing tomorrow afternoon on Flood’s amendment. A final bill for the legislature to debate could hit the floor on Monday.