Debate in the legislature on a nominee to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission spills over into a debate about TransCanada, the Keystone XL pipeline, and the proper role of the commission and its director.
Eventually, the legislature approved the nomination of Tim Wistrom of Kimball, but not until after nearly two hours of wide-ranging floor debate.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm raised the objection to Wistrom, a rancher who also works in the oil and gas industry. Haar was the only dissenting vote on the Natural Resources Committee to Wistrom’s nomination to the commission located in Sidney.
Haar said Wistrom as too involved in the industry to properly oversee its regulation.
“I think that’s difficult to do; to regulate when you’re also cheerleading for an industry,” Haar told colleagues during debate on Wistrom’s nomination.
Haar reiterated an objection he raised during the committee meeting with Wistrom by telephone, because the weather prevented Wistrom from traveling to the Capitol in Lincoln. Wistrom told the committee he did not have a problem with commission Executive Director William Sydow’s appearance in a TransCanada advertisement promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Haar said that answer raised questions about whether Wistrom can be objective in regulating the industry.
“That’s my problem; cheerleading and regulating an industry at the same time,” Haar stated. “We need cheerleaders, for sure. But we need regulators to protect the people of Nebraska and the environment of this state.”
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala rose to the defense of Wistrom and said the debate had veered off course.
“This is not about the Oil and Gas Commission executive director,” Schilz stated. “This is about Mr. Wistrom, who is qualified by any measure that I can see.”
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha saw Sydow’s participation in the ad as an obvious conflict-of-interest.
“To identify that office with a specific company in an ad paid for by that company, going the direction that company wants to go and you all don’t see anything wrong with that? That is crazy and I mean that word,” Chambers said.
Opponents also latched on to the fact that Sydow encouraged Wistrom to seek the nomination.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, who said he had never raised an objection to such a nomination, saw Wistrom guilty by association.
“I submit to you it was wrong,” Avery said of Sydow’s decision to appear in the ad. “It showed bad judgment and his association with this nominee suggests to me that the nominee shares that bad judgment.”
But, Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee who brought Wistrom’s nomination to the floor, reminded colleagues the debate had gone far off topic.
“We’ve gone from Mr. Wistrom to Mr. Sydow to TransCanada to what the Oil and Gas Commission should do; what the specific duties are. And that’s really not what this is all about,” Carlson stated in his close on the nomination.
The Unicameral approved Wistrom’s nomination 33-to-6.
AUDIO: Part one of legislative debate on nomination of Tim Wistrom to Oil and Gas Commission. [53 min.]
AUDIO: Part two of legislative debate on Wistrom nomination. [51 min.]