Editor’s Update, 11/17/2011, 5pm: Senator Haar introduced and withdrew an amendment that would have designated the Sandhills as an “avoidance area” this morning on the floor. While we wish this could have been accomplished during the special session, we look forward to Senators Haar and Schilz brining up the critical issue of protecting the Sandhills in January when the legislature convenes for regular session. Tomorrow another oil pipeline company could try and cross the Sandhills as well as TransCanada could sell the current easements of landowners in the Sandhills to another oil company. That is why we think specific language must be adopted in January. 

At this point, the two bills, LB1 and LB4, are locked in, expected to pass final rounds of debate, and be sent to the Governor on Tuesday. We encourage citizens to join us at a press conference next Tuesday in the Rotunda (specific time TBA) where we’ll recap the special session and announce nest steps. 

Please consider sending an email to your state senator telling them “thank you” for working to protect our land and water and that we will continue to serve as the “watchful citizens” as we head into the new year.

On the Special Session Resource page, we will continue to post updates, links to watch the session and the schedule.

Original Post:

As our senators go into the final days of debate on the bills regarding TransCanada’s Keystone XL (LB4) as well as future oil pipelines (LB1) we want to reiterate why it is critical to ensure the Sandhills will be protected specifically in the language of at least one bill.

1) TransCanada has no written document with our state that they will honor their word of avoiding the Sandhills with the Keystone XL pipeline. At the press conference earlier this week it was widely accepted they would do just that. However, without written documentation none of us have any level of assurance legal or otherwise. What is also missing is the definition of the Sandhills–and sandy soils–that they will avoid, which must be addressed immediately.

2) Senator Dubas’ bill, LB1, currently has no language that would ensure we do not have to, as Speaker Flood put it, “live through this nightmare again” of protecting the Sandhills and the relationship between the Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer. Without specific language, we have no legislative framework to protect the icon of the Sandhills. Landowners and citizens who live in the Sandhills will tell you over and over again that the sandy soil will simply not work to build a maximum capacity pipeline. When a spill happens, it will be worse because of the sandy soil and high water table. Our country literally has no experience with cleaning up a tar sands spill in a sensitive area like Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer. So why would we risk that?

3) The easements that TransCanada signed with landowners in the Sandhills can be SOLD by TransCanada to other oil pipeline companies. So families who thought they were no longer on pins and needles now need to worry about when TransCanada will sell the easements. If we had language in LB1 that would exclude/avoid the Sandhills, then families would have clear assurance their land will not be in jeopardy.

Other points on process and our positions:

  • Sen. Dubas’ bill, LB1, already exempts TransCanada from the law. While we strongly disagree with this exemption, we respect why Senator Dubas and Speaker Flood have explained why this is the case–they were concerned about legal challenges since TransCanada has started their federal permit process already, and they think that LB4/AM37 deals specifically with the Keystone XL in a similar way that LB1 would have done.
  • TransCanada’s VP, Robert Jones, inserted himself in a meeting that was originally planned for Sen. Langemeier and Sen. Dubas as well as one lawyer from TransCanada and one lawyer from Sierra Club. The meeting, without any agreement of a change in plans, turned into all senators on the Natural Resources Committee, two TransCanada lawyers, one Sierra Club lawyer and Robert Jones. This is a major problem because as usual TransCanada acts as if they do not have to honor agreements. The majority of senators on the Natural Resources Committee are clearly on TransCanada’s side, which is obvious to anyone who watched just a few hours of debate. So right away there was an unbalanced perspective, to what had been agreed upon as a balanced meeting to work through bill changes. The set-up of the meeting essentially allowed TransCanada to give an industry perspective at an unfair advantage. No one was asking if the bill was “landowner friendly enough” or “environmentally friendly enough,” but it sure seemed there was concern about making sure the bill was acceptable to TransCanada. This is a problem, especially since TransCanada is already exempt from the Dubas bill. So you have to wonder why do they care? We are pretty sure we know why…they have plans for more pipeline to cross our state, and they want to enter in that region. We have other possible explanations but would love to hear one from TransCanada.
  • Bold Nebraska supports energy independence. In practical terms, this means ensuring our energy portfolio includes wind, biofuels, efficiency, natural gas, geothermal and, yes, oil. We do not support foreign oil. We do not support tarsands oil. We do support Nebraska-made energy and see the development of Nebraska-made energy like wind a real opportunity to develop a new energy economy in our state, especially in our small towns. If Nebraska wanted to safely explore more areas of oil extraction in our state, we would be behind that 100%. We are not behind the irresponsible extraction of tar sands which emits more carbon, has more chemicals involved, uses more water, uses more natural gas and leaves toxic ponds of sludge behind. Tar sands is not like traditional oil, not at all. Our yards signs and message from the beginning have said “Stop the pipeline.” We know we can only stop the pipeline at the federal level, and we are working to do just that. On a state level, in regards to oil pipelines, we will continue to work on laws that protect our state, land and water in areas such as spill liability, local emergency response, bond for road repairs, water rights, wetland protection, landowner rights and eminent domain.