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Payroll Tax, Pipeline and State Updates

Update: The Saunders County Clerk has told us the best way to make sure all the supervisors read your concerns about the pipeline is to email her and include “Pipeline” in your subject line. Some supervisors are more likely to look at and respond to emails that way than direct correspondance.

Even though temperatures are falling like Republican presidential candidates, the Keystone XL Pipeline is still a hot issue, not only in Nebraska, but on the national scene as well.

Just this past week, Republicans in the House and the Senate released their own versions of reckless legislation that would force President Obama to either approve or deny the permit for the project within an arbitrary 30-60 days. This legislation, heartily endorsed by Nebraska’s own Rep. Lee Terry and Sen. Mike Johanns, disregards the State Department’s delay of the permit process, the accompanying Inspector General review of that process as well as the Nebraska-based study on a new–yet to be announced–route.

To make matters worse, in order to hedge the bets for this ill-advised idea, House Speaker Boehner is attempting to attach the pipeline bill to a bill that extends a payroll tax holiday, which has been expected to receive bi-partisan support. Americans are growing weary of this type of back-room deal-brokering, especially at a time when we want real solutions to our economic and energy woes, not more political wrangling. 

Such an arbitrary time frame could theoretically give approval for a pipeline whose proposed route hasn’t even been announced. Due to our own special legislative session in Nebraska, TransCanada’s “promise” to reroute the pipeline, and the establishment of a Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) review process to determine an alternate route, Nebraskans (or anyone else for that matter) don’t even know what the new proposed route of the Keystone XL will be.

The promotion of TransCanada’s profit-driven, oil-export agenda by politicians was something we’ve come to expect from Rep. Terry, but Sen. Johanns’ actions were a disappointment, especially since he seemed to be on the same page with Nebraskans who supported the need for more science and serious consideation of the how the pipeline effects our land, water and health. Past experiences with TransCanada combined with some good ol’ Cornhusker common sense tell us these actions by Terry, Johanns and Boehner are hasty to say the least.

With Nebraska’s much-needed, much-fought-for, and much-anticipated state environmental review just beginning, it makes no sense to rush ahead with the process.  

Nebraska Pipeline Review Update

To bring us all up to speed on the the state-level process, it was just last week that the NDEQ set up a FAQ website to address their role in the supplemental environmental impact statement for the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. The NDEQ director Mike Linder announced that Pat Rice, administrator for the NDEQ’s Water Quality Division, will take the lead in managing the state’s review of the proposed pipeline project.

Nebraskans also recently learned a consulting firm, HDR, was hired by NDEQ to help Nebraska with their review of a new route.

While we have serious questions on why an open request for proposals with a transparent review was not the process the NDEQ used to select a consulatant, we are happy to see the process moving forward. We will be watching how HDR conducts their assistance and business since we are aware on of their senior staff members is a very good golfing buddy of Governor Heineman. We would like to know how much HDR is being paid with taxpayer dollars and what the scope and timeline of their assitance includes. If the NDEQ did a full or even modified RFP we would know these answers, but alas, they did not so we are in the dark for now.

When it comes to jumping the gun, it seems that leaders in some Nebraska counties are eager to throw their support behind any project that has purported tax benefits, regardless of the actual outcome. Yesterday at the Saunders County Board of Supervisors meeting in Wahoo, supervisor Craig Breunig proposed the idea that Saunders County declare itself “pipeline friendly,” in the same way that some Nebraska counties are declaring themselves “livestock friendly.” Mr. Breunig cited tax revenues as the biggest reason to invite a pipeline to Saunders county, to which his colleague Scott Sukstorf echoed that they should “build two or three of them.” We wish we were kidding.

Interestingly, Livestock Friendly County (LFC) designation is a great way for corporate agriculture to sidestep local control by weakening zoning ordinances as they would apply to CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), for example. It took an act of the State Legislature, through LB754 in 2003, to establish the LFC program, which begs the question: are there senators in the Nebraska Unicameral looking into passing legislation to establish a Pipeline Friendly County designation in the upcoming regular session? 

We would love to see a Landowner Friendly County or Environment and Water Friendly County designation happening…we will put that on our wishlist to Santa.

Action

Now more than ever, even as we’re getting further into winter and closer to the end of the year, it is time to turn up the heat on the pipeline. Here are 3 ideas for you, please pass these on to your friends as well:

1) Contact Rep. Lee Terry and Sen. Mike Johanns, tell them you don’t appreciate them standing up for TransCanada and standing in the way of Nebraska’s DEQ process (they will try to tell you they are not, but if you read the bills they are 100% putting an arbitrary deadline on the national process). Ask that they pull their support for the reckless pipeline bills being attahed to the middle-class payroll tax bill.

Terry: 202-225-4155 or tweet him @leeterryne

Johanns: 202-224-4224 or tweet him @Mike_Johanns 

2) Contact Saunders County supervisors Breunig and Sukstorf and let them know what you think of their comments in Tuesday’s meeting.

3) Send a holiday card to President Obama thanking him for being a leader to protect our land, water and health by asking for more time to study TransCanada’s risky pipeline. 

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BOLD Nebraska
208 S. Burlington Ave., Ste 103, Box 325, Hastings, NE 68901