TransCanada has agreed to move its proposed Keystone XL pipeline out of the Sandhills, and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood has announced a proposal for Nebraska taxpayers to pay for a new environmental impact study of a different route.
Flood's announcement came two hours into the first day of debate on a proposal to give the governor authority to decide on pipeline routes, and four days after the State Department announced a delay to study alternatives.
"I have visited with TransCanada. They have agreed to voluntarily move the route out of the Nebraska Sandhills. TransCanada has agreed to do this after hearing from Nebraskans and many of you in this room and the thousands of people who have come to our state Capitol to make their voices
Heard," Flood said.
Johnnie Adcox, NET News
Sen. Mike Flood looks behind him before announcing proposed pipeline deal.
Flood also said he consulted with the State Department, which said Nebraska could go ahead and conduct its own supplemental environmental impact statement. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality would participate in that process, along with the federal government. Flood introduced an amendment requiring that, and emphasized that such a review would be paid for the taxpayers of Nebraska. "This is our land. These are our people. This is our water. If it's important enough to study and to get an answer on a supplemental environmental impact statement, it's important enough for us to pay the bill," he said. "TransCanada will not pay for this. We will pay for this, because it's the right thing to do."
TransCanada paid for the State Department's environmental impact statement, which has been criticized because it was conducted by Cardno-Entrix, a firm that had listed TransCanada as a major client. Flood's proposal specifies that there should be no conflict of interest on the part of any vendor hired by the state.
After the new study is completed, the governor would have to indicate whether or not he consents to the new route. The bill the Legislature was considering would have required the governor to consent before a route could go forward; the new version appears to weaken that provision. Flood's proposal would replace the bill, and would apply to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. For future pipelines, he said, a bill requiring approval by the Public Service Commission would be revived. "I believe it's appropriate that this bill (LB1, giving approval of future pipelines to the PSC) be passed as well this session, so that we never have to live through this nightmare again. We should put oil pipeline siting legislation on the books," Flood said.
Governor Dave Heineman, who called the Legislature into special session but did not offer his own proposal for legislation, could not immediately be reached for comment to Flood's proposal. A spokeswoman said he was attending a National Governors' Association meeting in Nashville. Heineman scheduled a news conference for 2:30 Central on Tuesday.
Shortly after the Legislature adjourned for the day, Flood, TransCanada officials and other senators held a joint news conference.
At that session Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president for energy and oil pipelines, said the company still thinks the route through the Sandhills could have been built safely. Pourbaix cast TransCanada's decision to forego that route as a reaction to the State Department. "The State Department, by changing the rules last week has given us this opportunity to revisit this issue," he said.
Pourbaix also expressed confidence that a route that avoids the Sandhills would be approved. "I think it removes by far the largest barrier to seeking approval. Kerri Ann Jones, the officer of the State Department that has been charged with this in her press conference last week indicated that the overwhelming concern of the State Department was the Sandhills issue that they heard brought up during the national interest determination. So with the collaboration of the Legislature here I believe we will put that issue completely behind us," he said.
Senator Ken Haar, a leading critic of the previously proposed route, hailed Monday's announcement. "Three months ago there were two groups getting ready for battle: the citizens of Nebraska and TransCanada. And first of all I want to say I think we've come together shaking hands today," Haar said.
Haar is among those critics who've said they're not opposed to the pipeline, just its route. But Jane Kleeb of the group BOLD Nebraska, which opposes both, said the federal government must still examine other environmental impacts, like greenhouse gas emissions.