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Heineman opposes pipeline route

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

LINCOLN -- Gov. Dave Heineman decided to flat out oppose the route proposed for the TransCanada XL Pipeline.

Some people wondered: "What's that about?"

Others said: "It's about time!"

Heineman said what other critics have said in arguing that TransCanada's preferred path for transporting tar sand oil across the porous Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer represented too great an environmental threat. His opposition was offered sans the vitriol and adjective-laden rhetoric of many pipeline opponents.

Importantly, it also was offered after the feds issued a favorable, final environmental impact statement. Most observers, for and against the pipeline, said the report virtually assured a green light for the project.

The pipeline would transport the controversial tar sand oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Heineman attributed his change in position to his sense that more and more Nebraskans are opposed to the pipeline route.

The question from here: If the governor opposes the proposed route, why didn't he summon the Legislature for a special session to address the issue?

The Congressional Research Service said last year that states -- and not the federal government -- have authority to dictate routes for all manner of pipelines. The federal government can determine whether a pipeline may be built, but the states can say how it will get from one place to another.

For Nebraska to do that, the Legislature would have to enact news laws and regulations to implement its authority. The only Nebraska law

now on the books is one giving pipeline companies the power of eminent domain -- the right to take private property if owners won't make a deal to sell their land.

Heineman said he'd just written to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stating his opposition. He urged all 49 state senators to do the same.

However, he simultaneously said that approaching the feds would be the fastest way to deal with the problem.

It's hard to figure out how that could be accurate.

Lawmakers could quickly be called back to Lincoln. They would operate on their own schedule, but they would have the ability to pass legislation within a matter of days and send it to Heineman for his approval or veto.

The Obama administration has said its decision won't come until sometime in November.

The Legislature can also call itself into special session with approval of a super-majority of its 49 members. Some lawmakers have said a move to do that will begin this month.

A TransCanada spokesman said Heineman's opposition was regrettable, and late.

The company always has argued that environmental risks have been overstated by a variety of scientists and other critics. The latter have in turn argued that TransCanada has grossly understated the threat the pipeline proposes to the aquifer, their view that it is virtually certain to leak, and that no cleanup operation could be sufficiently thorough.

Pipeline supporters have joined TransCanada in its position, as well as arguing the project would provide thousands of jobs while giving America additional oil assets from a friendly nation.

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J.L. Schmidt
Capitol View
Nebraska Press Association