Nebraska's Legislature considers measure to exempt Keystone XL tar sands from state's pipeline siting law
Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is expected to vote on a bill on Wednesday that would amend the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act by exempting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from review by Nebraska’s Public Service Commission. The Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act was passed in a special session after the people of Nebraska urged their leaders to prevent TransCanada from building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer in the Sandhills region. Now, the legislature is on the brink of passing LB 1161, which will allow TransCanada to skirt the process established to protect the people and resources of Nebraska.
On November 22, 2011, Nebraska’s legislature passed two pipeline siting laws in a Special Session. The first law, the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act, established a process under which Nebraska’s Public Service Commission would exercise the state’s authority to site future oil pipelines. However, under threats of lawsuits by TransCanada, the Unicameral exempted all pipelines for which an existing Presidential Permit application was already pending (i.e. Keystone XL) from the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act.
For Keystone XL, the Unicameral passed the Oil Pipeline Route Certification Act, an expedited review process paid for by the State to move the route from the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska’s Sand Hills. Rather than using the Public Service Commission to rigorously assess Keystone XL, the Oil Pipeline Route Certification Act allowed for an expedited review followed by a final certification decision by the Governor.
When President Obama rejected the Presidential Permit application for Keystone XL, this created an unexpected problem for TransCanada. Its pipeline was no longer exempt from Nebraska’s Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act. Rather than go through the legal process set up by the state of Nebraska for other pipeline projects, TransCanada appears to have lobbied the state legislature to change the law.
LB 1161 amends the Major Oil Pipeline Act (MOPA), allowing oil pipelines which have already received a certification under the Oil Pipeline Route Certification Act to skip MOPA’s more rigorous review process. There is absolutely no rationale for exempting Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from scientific review by the Nebraska’s Public Service Commission – the urgency disappeared when TransCanada’s Presidential Permit was denied. This is clearly a piece of legislation intended to special benefit TransCanada at the expense of Nebraska landowners.
TransCanada does not currently have the authority to build an oil pipeline from the Canadian border through Nebraska. While TransCanada has been invited to reapply for a Presidential Permit, the company has not yet done so. Should TransCanada reapply for a Presidential Permit, its application would require an Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA before undergoing a National Interest Determination under Executive Order 13337. However, until TransCanada gets around to making such an application, the company does not have a viable oil pipeline proposal to present the state of Nebraska. In other words, it’s early for Nebraska’s legislature to be considering measures that grant TransCanada special favors. It’s never too early for Nebraskans to consider whose interests their leaders are representing.