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LB 1161 Throws Nebraskans Under the Bus

After sitting through the hearing for LB 1161, I am quite sure that Sen. Smith’s bill is unnecessary and harmful to Nebraskans and goes against the spirit and intent of laws passed during the Special Session.  Time after time at the hearing, when questioned on items of concern in his bill (and I use the term “his bill” lightly), Sen. Smith deferred to TransCanada representatives to answer for him.

The problem at hand is that TransCanada wants their “new” pipeline route (by the way, Gov. Heineman knows the new map but won’t tell Nebraskans) reviewed now,  and whatever TransCanada wants from our elected officials they get. TransCanada needs Nebraska’s stamp of approval ASAP so they can go to their shareholders, the press and future affected landowners and say “Nebraska is fine with this route, their elected officials and regulatory agencies support us, so we are moving forward with getting this pipe in the ground.”

It was obvious to me and anyone watching the hearing that LB 1161 is little more than political pandering to the interests of a foreign corporation, at the expense of Nebraska citizens’ right to a transparent and deliberate process already established by Nebraska law.  What’s more, it disrespects members of the legislature who worked diligently on behalf of Nebraskans during the special legislative session in November 2011.

During that special session, our lawmakers passed LB1, or the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act (MOPSA).  MOPSA established a process for routing and siting pipelines in Nebraska through the Public Service Commission.  The law was intended to apply to future pipeline projects not currently under consideration at that time.  Any pipeline TransCanada want reviewed at this point now falls under this definition since their KXL permit was denied and they have yet to apply for a new permit.

Also passed in the special session was LB4, which created a process by which the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality would conduct an environmental review of a pipeline reroute for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.  This was done pending a State Department decision on TransCanada’s pipeline permit under consideration at that time, and according to LB4, the DEQ had to have a memo of partnership from the State Department before reviewing the pipeline as to avoid a process and environmental review that would not be valid on a federal level.

When President Obama denied the permit for the TransCanada Keystone Export pipeline in January, he negated any necessity for Nebraska to conduct its own environmental review.  Since there is no pending pipeline permit, circumstances prompting the conditions of LB4 no longer apply.

Should TransCanada, or any pipeline company, choose to apply for a permit for another project, that application and the routing and siting process would be and should be evaluated by Nebraska’s PSC as established by the MOPSA. This is black and white and written into our laws.

Circumventing the process set forth by MOPSA would set a dangerous precedent.  It would send a message that our legislature is little more than a tool to be used by foreign corporations to gain preferential treatment and that if they have fancy lawyers and high-paid lobbyists they can change the laws whenever they want.

If our legislature is going to make exceptions for this corporation, what other corporations will they favor in the future, at the expense of due process under the law?  If we start doing political favors for TransCanada now, where does it stop?  Our legislature, and in this case the Natural Resources Committee in particular, at a minimum, should abide by its own laws.

Many times during the hearing for LB1161, Sen. Smith and others tried to argue that LB 1161 was proposed to “carry on the spirit” of the laws passed during the Special Session.  But, sadly, the only spirit in the hearing room that day was the ghost of pipeline past, the TransCanada Keystone Export pipeline that refuses to die no matter how many times it gets killed.

Another frequent phrase used during the hearing by Sen. Christensen was that Nebraska needed to “hold up our end of the deal” with TransCanada. Well, Sen. Christensen, in the Special Session you and the rest of our lawmakers made two deals: one with Nebraskans (LB1), and one with TransCanada (LB4).  TransCanada’s deal fell through when their permit was denied.  Now, Sens. Christensen and Smith, among others, want to bow out of their deal with Nebraskans and instead stand with a foreign pipeline company, while telling Nebraskans we have to foot the $2 million bill to study their pipeline under the DEQ process.

Our state senators did their job during the Special Session. Two laws were put into place that provide Nebraska input on routing. If the Governor now wants his staff to move forward studying a pipeline that has no pending permit and that might never be built, he has authority to tell his staff at the DEQ what to work on. But the legislature has done their job.

If there’s one thing all Nebraskans agree on, pro-pipeline or anti-Keystone alike, it’s that we should determine our own destiny when it comes to pipeline permitting and routing.  For many months, we’ve come together across the state to make one thing clear: we want to be the bus drivers when it comes to pipeline siting in our state.  Now our lawmakers are about to hand TransCanada the keys to the bus, step back, and throw Nebraskans under it.

ACTION:
Tell the Natural Resources Committee you oppose LB 1161 and that we already have the law in place for TransCanada and any other oil pipeline company that wants their pipeline route reviewed. Nebraska does not need to pass special laws just to do a foreign corporation a favor, especially with a price tag of $2 million when our state is looking for money to help with child welfare and education budget gaps.

Click here to send the entire commitee an email.

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