Final pipeline regulation bills introduced

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November 2, 2011 - 7:00pm

Two more proposals to regulate oil pipelines were submitted to the Legislature Thursday, as lawmakers wrapped up the bill introduction phase of their special session.

Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm introduced a proposal that would exclude oil pipelines from certain areas of the state. Those areas include the Sandhills, the watersheds of trout streams that are already protected from feedlot development, and stretches where the depth to groundwater is less than 10 feet for 10 miles or more.

Haar was clear about what his bill would mean for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline: "They'd have to change the route, very definitely. Because right now it goes through the Sandhills and for 65 miles of the current route, and this is according to the State Department - the groundwater is 10 feet or less from the surface," he declared.

TransCanada has said it will take extra precautions to make its pipeline safe in shallow groundwater areas. And it has released several legal opinions questioning the legality of Nebraska passing any legislation that would force it to change its proposed route.

But Haar says lawsuits may be inevitable no matter what the Legislature does, or doesn't do. "As somebody pointed out, you can sue a ham sandwich. So I think nothing we pass is immune from a court challenge." But he added he thinks his bill can withstand such a challenge.

Among TransCanada's claims is that considering the time and money at stake in the project, Nebraska could be liable for billions of dollars in damages.

But in an opinion written for the Sierra Club, lawyer Alan Peterson says there is no threat of damages, because the state has sovereign immunity. He says that's different from the situation in which Nebraska had to pay more than $150 million when a judge found it allowed politics to trump science in a rejecting a nuclear waste site. Peterson was one of the lawyers who successfully sued the state in that case.

The other bill proposed Thursday, by Lincoln Senator Bill Avery, would require oil pipeline developers to post a $500 million bond to pay landowners and counties for possible damages to land, infrastructure and natural resources. TransCanada has previously offered a $100 million dollar bond in case it failed to clean up a spill in the Sandhills.

Hearings on all the bills introduced in this session will be held next week. Contrary to the usual procedure in special session, there was no bill introduced on behalf of the governor.

For a map of shallow groundwater areas, click here For a map of Sandhill areas,(those labeled as "44"), click here For a map of protected trout streams in northern Nebraska, click here For a map of protected trout streams in western Nebraska, click here

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