State senators are leaning toward holding a special session on oil pipeline routing, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood said. And he angrily denied that senators are running away from the issue.
Pressure on the pipeline issue has been building ever since the Legislature adjourned in June. Pipeline company TransCanada has proposed building the Keystone XL pipeline through the Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Opponents have said that poses too much of a threat to the environment.
In their regular session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring pipeline companies to restore property that pipelines pass through. But a stronger proposal that would have given the state authority over what route a pipeline should follow was kept bottled up in committee.
Ordinarily, that would mean no further action before the Legislature reconvenes in January. But the U.S. State Department has said it intends to decide on a permit for the pipeline before the end of the year.
Wednesday, Speaker Mike Flood said senators appear to be moving toward calling a special session before then. "If you asked all of our members today, I do believe that the sentiment among members of the Legislature is trending toward the calling of a special session. In my opinion, we've got more work to do before that Happens," Flood said.
Flood says he's asked Senators Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, Annette Dubas of Fullerton, and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids to meet with him and TransCanada official Alex Pourbaix on Tuesday to discuss the pipeline route and possible alternatives.
On Monday of this week, Dubas proposed legislation that would give the Nebraska Public Service Commission authority to approve or disapprove pipeline routes. While not specifically endorsing the proposal, Gov. Dave Heineman suggested senators were failing to come to grips with the issue. On Tuesday, for example Heineman said "Right now, quite honestly, I don't think I'm exaggerating at all, most senators kind of want to run and hide from this issue." In his comments, Flood didn't refer to the governor by name. But there was little doubt who he was reacting to when he said "No one in our branch is hiding. No one in our branch wants to avoid taking action on this issue. It is irresponsible to suggest that within 36 hours of seeing Sen. Dubas's bill, everyone should have a reasoned opinion. This is too tough of an issue."
A spokeswoman for the governor had no immediate reaction. The governor could call a special session on his own, or the Legislature can do it if two-thirds of its members agree.
TransCanada has suggested passing legislation to change the route of the Keystone XL pipeline could be challenged as unconstitutional.
Flood said senators will consider the pros and cons of a special session before deciding what to do. He gave no deadline, but suggested if one is held, he'd like to have it wrapped up before Thanksgiving.