By Kate Sullivan
District #41 State Senator
By the time this newsletter goes to press, the Legislature will be meeting in a special session at the Governor’s request to consider “enacting legislation relating to oil pipelines”. The session began Tuesday, Nov. 1.
Oil pipelines have become a hot button issue for Nebraskans in the last year – whether you’re an opponent, a supporter or you just want the route changed so it doesn’t go through the Sand Hills.
In the 2011 regular session, I introduced LB 629 which addressed financial responsibility for oil pipelines. It was the only pipeline-related bill passed in the 2011 session. LB 629 requires pipeline carriers to be financial responsible for all reclamation costs resulting from the construction and operation of a pipeline. It also allows a state agency, county board, city council or village board to pursue reclamation costs from the pipeline carrier for the maintenance and repair of roads, bridges, or other infrastructure caused by the construction, maintenance, or operation of a pipeline. I strongly believe that LB 629 is just a beginning concerning state laws on pipelines.
My staff and I have been involved with the work on siting legislation. The final version should be available online by the time you read this. The Governor’s special session call is extremely broad so I also expect competing proposals to be introduced. We have no idea what the Natural Resources Committee may send to the full Legislature for consideration.
In addition to my work on the siting legislation, Speaker Mike Flood asked me to be part of an informal committee that included Speaker Flood, Senator Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, Chair of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Annette Dubas of Fullerton. The goal was to sift through the hyperbole and put together facts about the pipeline and the process for the entire Legislature can use. Our committee met with TransCanada officials in early October and with U.S. Department of State officials in Lincoln in mid-October.
In spite of this background work, there’s no consensus among senators on the need for siting legislation. There are also serious legal questions to be resolved including whether legislation enacted at this point in the federal process can legally affect the current pipeline project and whether such legislation would be constitutional. Respected attorneys have issued differing opinions on these topics in the last two weeks.
Taking all this into consideration, I want you to know that I firmly believe Nebraska should have oil pipeline siting laws on our books. This has always been my position. Nebraska should have enacted pipeline siting laws years ago, before the newest operating pipeline was built and before the current pipeline project was in the planning stages.
Nebraska must have a say about what happens in our state. It directly affects our citizens, our land and our precious natural resources. It seems naive and short-sighted to trust that someone else cares as much about Nebraska as we Nebraskans do. Given our geographic location between the oil sources and the oil refineries, the current pipeline project is unlikely to be the last proposed pipeline project to cross Nebraska.
I’m also realistic about the potential results of this special session on the current pipeline project. If the Legislature successfully enacts legislation giving the state pipeline siting authority, it doesn’t automatically follow that the route of this specific pipeline project would or could be changed.
The debate will be heated. Nebraskans are strong supporters of the current pipeline route. Other Nebraskans support the pipeline but want the route changed. Some Nebraskans oppose all oil pipelines regardless of the route.
We must be thoughtful and thorough in our debate because this legislation also applies to future pipelines, not just the current pipeline project. And yet we must also be careful in how we phrase our discussion so legislation isn’t “branded” as being special legislation aimed at TransCanada setting up a question of constitutionality. Our state Constitution expressly prohibits enactment of special legislation.
Over the last few months, many of you have called me or were transferred to my office by a call center, emailed and written letters sharing your views. I’ve kept track and responded to you directly when I had a name and contact information. Even though we live in the same part of the state, there isn’t a universal opinion on oil pipelines. I thank you for your input and I will keep both sides in mind over the next few weeks.
The committee hearings and floor debate will be available on ETV or live-streamed on the Legislature’s website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. There is Voicemail on my phone so if you get the recording, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you. You may also write to me c/o P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you write or email, please include your full name and mailing address.