Nebraska Legislature Passes Keystone XL Siting Study Bill
Nebraska's unicameral legislature overwhelmingly approved legislation by a vote of 44-5 that would allow the state to begin its study to re-route a section of the Keystone XL pipeline that originally ran through the Sandhills region. TransCanada, the company constructing the project, would reimburse the state up to $2 million dollars for its review.
The new legislation builds upon a special session called by Governor Dave Heineman in the fall of 2011 after a barrage of political scrutiny was directed towards the permitting process for the project. Governor Heineman and other political leaders in the state opposed the original route of the project because it crossed an ecologically sensitive region known as the Sandhills, which also includes the Ogallala Aquifer - a major groundwater resource. During the Governor's special session, new pipeline siting legislation was passed and TransCanada negotiated an agreement with state leaders to re-route a section of the pipeline around sensitive Sandhills region.The Governor has publicly stated his support for the Keystone XL project as long as it avoids the Sandhills, however, the Obama Administration's denial of a National Interest Determination Permit was largely based off his objections and and those of leaders in the state.
Under the new bill passed by the legislature, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will be required to have at least one public hearing to examine the new chosen route and what, if any, environmental or economic impacts it may have. Environmental groups, including Bold Nebraska, have come out against the new bill because it avoids additional review by the state Public Service Commission required for the construction of new oil pipelines. Due to the project's rejection by the Obama Administration for National Interest Permit, TransCanada has broken the XL project up into sections. They recently announced their intention to construct a portion of the 1,700 mile pipeline from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX to relieve a glut of crude oil that has been accumulating and sending it to Gulf Coast refineries. That portion of the project does not require additional federal permits and has ironically been supported by the Obama Administration. In order for the for the company to move forward with the larger section of the project that will cross the international border with Canada, it requires a permit from the State Department. Nebraska's decision to begin a re-routing study is critical for supporters of the Keystone project because the company has to re-apply for a National Interest Determination permit, and solving the siting issues in the state is critical to the ultimate environmental review process that will be conducted by the federal government.