Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nebraska Keystone opponents say federal report allows states to site pipelines

LINCOLN, Neb. - The environmental group Bold Nebraska called a press conference here on March 30, to announce an “unearthed memo” addressed to Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry from the Congressional Research Service.

The memo, dated September 20, 2010, says while the U.S. State Department must approve the construction of a pipeline that transports oil across international borders - like Keystone - the federal government can’t approve the “siting” of the pipeline. That falls to the states.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said the memo clearly states Nebraska has the power to re-route the Keystone pipeline, which would cross over the fragile Ogallala aquifer in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said the report came in response to a request from Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry last September and was circulated as long ago as last fall to some members of the Nebraska Legislature.

The report appears to contradict March assertions from state Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler and others that the state has no authority to alter the controversial route of the Keystone XL through the Nebraska Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer.

Winston, representing one of several opponent groups at a March 30 news briefing, said he didn't know if Langemeier, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, had seen the six-page report originally directed to Terry.

Nor did Winston know what action Terry might have deemed appropriate after receiving the report. But he did say that several state senators, including one or more with proposed pipeline regulation bills stalled in the Natural Resources Committee, have seen the contents.

"I don't know what his role was in all this," Winston said of Terry's actions after getting the report.

Terry spokesman Charles Isom said Terry requested the report "for several elected officials" in the state.

Winston himself became aware of it last week in discussions with legislative staffers.

"I was shocked when I saw it was dated last fall," he said.

He called sudden awareness of its existence "very upsetting to all of us who have worked on this process."

Natural Resources Committee members Annette Dubas of Fullerton and Ken Haar of Malcolm submitted two of the three bills meant to assert some state control over the pipeline, intended to carry crude oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in the United States.

A February public hearing appeared to show substantial public support for their efforts and for a third bill, designated as a priority bill by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids and aimed at assigning strict liability to pipeline builder TransCanada for oil spills.

All three bills remain at the committee level as the Legislature moves into the second half of its 2011 session and debate picks up steam on other measures already advanced to the floor.

Langemeier, Dubas and Sullivan all said they're familiar with the contents of the report sought by Terry. None of them gave it the weight critics seemed to assign to it.

"There are people out there that think that siting means we can set an exact course for the pipeline," Langemeier said. "How do you know that?"

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