The legislature just voted 44-0 to advance Senator Dubas’ LB1, the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act. The bill would give the Public Service Commission responsibility for reviewing proposed pipeline routes, and it would require a pipeline company to get that state permit before having eminent domain authority.

The only amendment approved was the committee amendment to have the bill not apply to pipelines that have already submitted an application to the federal government, i.e. TransCanada’s Keystone XL. Bold’s position is that Keystone XL should not be exempt from the rules.

This afternoon, the Natural Resources Committee will take testimony on Speaker Flood’s AM37, which establishes a process under which the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality may collaborate with the federal government in a review of oil pipeline projects. The bill includes language to prevent NDEQ from hiring a contractor for the review that would have a conflict of interest or relationship with the pipeline carrier. The Governor would have 30 days after receiving the supplemental review to tell the federal government whether he approves of the route — presumably a new route that avoids the Sandhills as promised.

As AM37 is currently written, Nebraskans will have to foot the $5 million bill for the state-based SEIS on alternative routes for Keystone XL. If future pipeline operators have to pay for siting studies, then TransCanada should pay for this one, especially conisdering they earn $80 million a quarter and have been running expensive ad campaigns in our state.

One of the issues outstanding is eminent domain; as we read the two bills together, the current law covering eminent domain would still apply to the Keystone XL and the acquisition of property along the new route selected. As we understand it, under current law a company cannot take a landowner to court until they have their permit to build secured, but apparently there is some confusion among lawyers on that. Clearly, TransCanada has been threatening to use eminent domain for quite some time.