October 30, 2011 in Nation/World

Nebraska lawmakers take up oil pipeline

Special session to weigh route options
Kim Murphy Los Angeles Times

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has called the Legislature into special session this week to address growing concerns over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – a project that would carry tar sands oil across one of the Midwest’s most important aquifers.

The action throws a potentially significant new stumbling block into a Canadian company’s hope of winning approval before the end of the year for the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would move diluted bitumen – often heavy in sulfur, nickel and lead – from Alberta to the Texas coast.

“The key decision for current pipeline discussions is the permitting decision that will be made by the Obama administration, which is why I have urged President (Barack) Obama and Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton to deny the permit,” said the governor, a Republican.

“However, I believe Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist. Therefore, I will be calling a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to have a thoughtful and thorough public discussion about alternative solutions that could impact the route of the pipeline in a legal and constitutional manner.”

When they convene Tuesday, Nebraska legislators could try to assert legal authority over routing the pipeline. As currently proposed, the pipeline would cross the eastern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, one of the state’s ecological gems, and the Ogallala aquifer.

Pipeline opponents hope lawmakers also will attempt to impose stricter conditions on such matters as cleanup in the event of an oil spill.

“Nebraska has (theoretically) the authority to route oil pipelines. We have the authority to require bond for road repairs. We have the authority to make sure landowners are not liable for oil spills. The list is long on what our state can do to ensure our land and water are safe,” said Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, which is fighting the pipeline.

Legislative sources said Heineman has not yet made clear how broad or aggressive a position he will push the Legislature to adopt.

Officials at TransCanada, which hopes to win authority from the U.S. State Department to build the pipeline, have said that moving the structure outside the Sandhills could simply lead to worse environmental problems elsewhere – or make it impossible to pick up and deliver oil produced in Montana and North Dakota.

Todd Cone, a rancher near Atkinson, Neb., who fears the region’s delicate grasslands could be ruined by an oil spill, said the mood among ranchers in central Nebraska has turned more optimistic with the governor’s announcement.

“Right now, we feel like we have some hope, where before two days ago, it was like, throw in the towel – it’s so corrupt, and the governor wasn’t going to do anything, and we had nowhere to turn.”

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