Bill introduced in Nebraska Legislature’s special session on Keystone XL pipeline

Senators on the floor of the special session.

Photo and Story by Alia Conley, NewsNetNebraska

Nebraska senators might be the last hope for those who are against the Keystone XL pipeline. A bill introduced in the first special session of the 102nd legislature would give the state authority to review any major oil pipeline applications.

Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas introduced the bill, called the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act, which would let the Public Service Commission decide whether to accept or reject proposals based on nine key factors. Two of the factors concern Nebraska’s natural resources, which is the major controversy surrounding the current Keystone XL pipeline project.

Senators convened at 2 p.m. Tuesday for a special session called by Gov. Dave Heineman to focus on rerouting the Keystone XL pipeline. Dubas introduced LB1, and other resolutions not concerning the pipeline were introduced. After a motion to adjourn by Sen. Tom Carlson, the session ended at 2:16 p.m. and will meet again Wednesday at 11 a.m.

In a press release, Dubas said, “The state should have the authority to interact with these types of projects as other states have. We cannot leave here doing nothing; the citizens of Nebraska deserve more.”

Dubas’ bill says it is not special legislation because it would apply to all major oil pipelines, not just the Keystone XL pipeline.

The issue is whether the legislature can constitutionally enact laws about the pipeline. Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan said there are a number of senators who are lawyers and are concerned about the legality of the bill. She said most senators are entering the session with an open mind.

“I am hopeful that we do have more bills that come out of the committees so we can have a good and fair debate with the legislature,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan has been working with Dubas while this bill was drafted, and said she is leaning toward supporting it. In January, she introduced the Oil Pipeline Reclamation Act, which said that an oil company would have to fix any land restoration issues. The bill was signed into law in May. Though she said there are a good number of her constituents that support the pipeline, many are concerned about the route.

“Just because we would potentially pass legislation doesn’t mean that that’s an automatic route change,” she said. “It simply gives the authority of determining whether a route is acceptable.”

Sen. Dubas issued a note from attorney Alan E. Peterson, which said the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act is constitutional because it has a “savings clause” that says the routing authority is not based on safety, does not violate the Commerce Clause and is not special legislation.

The Keystone XL pipeline is proposed by TransCanada, a private Canadian company. The nearly 1,900-mile-long pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Houston, Texas, would transport 700,000 barrels of raw crude oil per day.

In September, the U.S. Department of State held public meetings in Lincoln and Atkinson, where hundreds of people for and against the pipeline attended.