McCook influences continue to be felt in major national events

Monday, November 17, 2014

In February, we wrote about the disproportionate role McCook has played in national events by being home to four governors and two senators, but a closer look at current events expands that influence even farther.

The House passed legislation Friday to advance the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Senate is poised to do so Tuesday (in a maneuver by Democrats to prop up Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana's runoff chances), and President Obama seems likely to veto the bill when it reaches his desk.

But McCook's influences will be felt in other upcoming action.

The Nebraska Supreme Court is about to rule whether a 2012 law, which gave Gov. Dave Heineman the power to approve the pipeline route, avoiding the ecologically sensitive Sandhills, but a district court ruled in February that the law was unconstitutional, and Heineman did not have that power.

Who does?

According to the court, the Nebraska constitution grants that power to the Public Service Comission, which ordinarily makes news by regulating telephones, taxi cabs and grain storage.

How does McCook figure in the mix?

For one, McCook is home to Gerald Vap, vice chairman of the Public Service Commission. He was appointed to the board in 2001, elected in 2004 and 2010 and served as chairman in 2004, 2005 and 2010.

For another, five Nebraska Supreme Court justices were appointed by former Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson, a McCook native. Oh, and two others were appointed by Heineman, a Republican, but who also lived in McCook for a time when he was a small child.

If the issue were to come down to final review by the PSC, McCook's influence could be a good thing.

For one, we're about as far away from the Keystone XL route as one can be and still be in Nebraska, which should make for a dispassionate view of the merits of the project.

On the other hand, we're in a major oil producing region, which should give the energy industry a fighting chance to make its point, if it comes to that.

Denver attorney Dan Frost told the Associated Press that regulatory agencies like Nebraska's Public Service Commission would give the project a more thorough technical review than a governor would.

"Generally speaking, they're less politically charged and more technical in nature," he said. "I think they're more inclined to look at the project's technical merits."

That sounds like just what the Keystone XL project needs.

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