Two more proposals to change how the state handles proposed oil pipelines were introduced Wednesday, as the Legislature continued its special session.
The first bill was introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery. It would require pipeline companies get all the federal or state permits they need before being able to use eminent domain. That's a procedure for taking private property for public purposes. If the parties can't agree, a court can decide what's a reasonable price.
Avery says his bill's a reaction to tactics being used by TransCanada, the company that wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, to get easements to run through private property. "TransCanada has been intimidating landowners by saying Here is the offer. If you don't take this offer within 30 days, we will start eminent domain proceedings.'" Avery said. "They don't have the right to do that if they don't have a permit. It's wrong, I'm offended by it, and this is what I'm trying to stop."
TransCanada doesn't yet have the federal permit it needs, and the Legislature is considering whether to require a state permit as well. TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said the company is following the law. "I understand the concerns," Howard said, while adding "We have not exercised any eminent domain here in Nebraska." According to a letter on file in Avery's office, the company has told landowners that while it has a strong preference to negotiate voluntary agreements, if it cannot it will use eminent domain. Howard said some critics have tried to "spin" that into a threat. Avery said his purpose is to make it clear that the company can't intimidate people by implying it will use such tactics before it is legally able to do so.
Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, sponsored the other bill introduced Wednesday. It would give the governor the power to approve or disapprove proposed pipeline routes.
Langemeier was asked if this was a way of tossing the political hot potato of siting legislation that Gov. Dave Heineman tossed to the Legislature back to the governor. "Well, I don't know," he replied. "You may make that reference. I think it actually puts a process (in place), and it gives him the power to make decisions."
Heineman spokeswoman Sue Roush said the governor had no comment on the legislation, and no comment on whether he will have a bill of his own introduced. Speaker Mike Flood says Thursday is the last day for bill introduction.
The developments came a day after President Barack Obama implied that he will be making the final decision on federal permit for the Keystone pipeline. The State Department had been saying it would make a decision by the end of the year, but that decision can be passed on to the president if another agency disagrees. Obama said he wants to take a long view, and balance the need for jobs with a desire not to harm the environment.