Senator wants pipeline route review back on track

LINCOLN - - The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality could continue to review alternative routes for the TransCanda Keystone XL pipeline to avoid the Sandhills, despite recent action by the federal government, if a bill introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion was passed. On Feb. 16, the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the bill, LB1161. The bill is a "simple amendment" to the two pipeline-related bills passed during last year's special session, Smith said. On Feb. 14, Smith introduced an amendment to his bill to address the recent federal action, he said. “This legislation, senators, is simply in the spirit of that agreement, that agreement to route the pipeline away from the Sandhills,” he told senators in his closing. One of the bills passed during the special session allowed the state environmental quality department to work with the U.S. Department of State on an environmental study of the pipeline as a joint project. “Unfortunately we could not have anticipated the circumstances and the actions that have occurred at the federal level that have now jeopardized the agreements we reached last year,” Smith said. Mike Linder, director of Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, testified in support of the bill, adding that his testimony was not taking a position on the project itself. The project has been at a standstill because the State Department decided to stop working on the project, he said. LB1161 would allow the Department of Environmental Quality to continue working where it stopped, by giving the department the flexibility it needs to perform the review, Linder said. He added the department has already spent about $90,000 working on the study. The department estimated the study would cost $2 million. Three people testified in support of the bill, including two representatives of TransCanada. Fourteen people testified against the bill, some saying that they were against the pipeline altogether. On Jan. 18, President Barack Obama denied the federal permit that would have allowed TransCanda to begin construction of the pipeline. Robert Jones, representing TransCanada Keystone Pipe-line, LP, said that Trans Canada will re-file the application for the permit. “The most important aspect of reapplying for this presidential permit is the determination of a process for a new route in Nebraska,” Jones said. If LB1161 was not passed, TransCanada’s re-filed application would fall under the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act. The act, passed during last year’s special session, gives the Public Service Commission the authority to regulate the construction of pipelines. The pipeline company would pay for the cost of the study under this act, instead of the state taxpayers.