It looks like the Legislature may act on pipeline legislation this year after all.
Legislation to regulate oil pipelines has been stuck for months in the Natural Resources Committee. TransCanada wants to build a pipeline through the Sandhills to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Supporters say it will provide a friendly source of oil, as well as jobs and taxes. Critics say it could leak into the Ogallala Aquifer.
TransCanada has said state regulation would merely duplicate federal regulation. But critics want state lawmakers to act.
About a hundred people rallied in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday to deliver that message. Susan Luebbe, a rancher along the proposed pipeline route in Holt County, urged the Natural Resources Committee to advance a bill for the full Legislature to consider.
" I do not want this pipeline built here or anywhere else, period," Luebbe said. "I am now asking you to help us in case life doesn't go my way. Please use your powers that the people gave you and help protect the sand, our water and our livelihood of the people of Nebraska, by passing this liability bill, LB629, on to the
Later in the day, the committee did advance the bill, but in a significantly scaled-back version. Originally, Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids had proposed holding pipeline companies strictly liable for economic and other damages if the pipeline leaks. Under the amended version, they would be financially responsible only for reclamation -- restoring the land as closely as "reasonably practicable" to its condition before the pipeline was built. The companies would not have to pay to the extent that another party was determined to be responsible.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Senator Chris Langemeier said the committee had been waiting for Sullivan to propose acceptable language, and that public pressure like the rally had not played a role. "We've been working on this for quite some time. So really the rally has no relevance," he said.
Sullivan said she's glad the committee advanced something, and she won't try to amend the bill further.
"I was committed to this from the get-go, and I wasn't going to let up, and I'm just very pleased that the committee saw that they were going to go forward with this. It's a small step but it's an important step," Sullivan said.
With only 11 days left in the legislative session, Speaker Mike Flood said it would be a "tight fit" to schedule the bill for the three rounds of consideration it would need to pass this year. However, he said, it is definitely possible.
On another matter, the Legislature took up the first of several redistricting bills - this one to establish the districts from which Supreme Court judges are appointed. Because of population shifts, the proposed new map includes part of Douglas County in a district that stretches throughout the northeast portion of the state. Omaha Senator Brenda Council asked what effect that could have.
"Is it arguable if in one judicial district there are thousands more attorneys than in another judicial district, that the likelihood of an appointment to the Supreme Court is heightened if you're in one of those districts with fewer
attorneys?" she asked.
The answer was, essentially, yes. Said Flood "The reality is, the population is what it is. The Census delivered the numbers. And we have an obligation, not just to lawyers, but to people, to make sure that districts are similarly-sized."
The bill then got first round approval on a vote of 34-0. That unanimity is unlikely to continue when the Legislature takes up the contentious issues of legislative and congressional redistricting proposals, which are to be discussed in a public hearing Friday.
(You can watch that public hearing streaming live on our website, Netnebraska.org/capitol starting at 9 a.m. Central. You can also see discussions with redistricting committee members Chris Langemeier, Scott Lautenbaugh and Heath Mello at netnebraska.org/capitolconversations.
Pipeline regulation headed to full Legislature
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May 11, 2011 - 7:00pm