Keystone XL —- Critics Cite Federal Report As Call To State Action

Pipeline critics cite federal report as call to state action. Nebraska critics of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline circulated a report from the Congressional Research Service on Wednesday that appears to show states have authority to regulate siting, eminent domain procedures and other aspects of petroleum pipeline construction. Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club said the report came in response to a request from Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry last September and was circulated as long ago as last fall to some members of the Nebraska Legislature. The report appears to contradict March assertions from state Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler and others that the state has no authority to alter the controversial route of the Keystone XL through the Nebraska Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Winston, representing one of several opponent groups at a Wednesday news briefing, said he didn’t know if Langemeier, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, had seen the six-page report originally directed to Terry. Nor did Winston know what action Terry might have deemed appropriate after receiving the report. But he did say that several state senators, including one or more with proposed pipeline regulation bills stalled in the Natural Resources Committee, have seen the contents. “I don’t know what his role was in all this,” Winston said of Terry’s actions after getting the report. Terry spokesman Charles Isom said Terry requested the report “for several elected officials” in the state. Winston himself became aware of it last week in discussions with legislative staffers. “I was shocked when I saw it was dated last fall,” he said. He called sudden awareness of its existence “very upsetting to all of us who have worked on this process.” Natural Resources Committee members Annette Dubas of Fullerton and Ken Haar of Malcolm submitted two of the three bills meant to assert some state control over the pipeline, intended to carry crude oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in the United States. A February public hearing appeared to show substantial public support for their efforts and for a third bill, designated as a priority bill by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids and aimed at assigning strict liability to pipeline builder TransCanada for oil spills. All three bills remain at the committee level as the Legislature moves into the second half of its 2011 session and debate picks up steam on other measures already advanced to the floor. Langemeier, Dubas and Sullivan all said they’re familiar with the contents of the report sought by Terry. None of them gave it the weight critics seemed to assign to it. “There are people out there that think that siting means we can set an exact course for the pipeline,” Langemeier said. “How do you know that?” That shouldn’t be interpreted to mean he and his peers are indifferent. “Is there a desire to make it safe and make sure it’s safe. Sure there is.” Dubas and Sullivan said the report may indeed show states have authority on siting and other pipeline matters. However, that can only have a bearing on Keystone XL if Nebraska has procedures in place for asserting its authority — and it does not. “We don’t have authority to do anything,” Dubas said, “until we get something in statute.” At the news briefing called by pipeline opponents, John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union said, “Who knew what when is one line of attack” in rating the relevance of the Congressional Research Service report to the work by state lawmakers. But, he said, this is “a very significant development. So now what do we do with this information?” In the report, authors Paul Parfomak, a specialist in energy and infrastructure policy, and Adam Vann, a legislative attorney, offered an interpretation of pipeline law that appears to leave states with substantial latitude to act. “The federal government does not have siting authority for oil pipelines, even interstate pipelines,” they said. Later, they add: “In the absence of federal government siting authority, state law establishes the primary siting authority for oil pipelines, including interstate oil pipelines.” Reached at TransCanada headquarters in Calgary on Wednesday, spokesman Shawn Howard said the company has its own view of what 10 states along the proposed route can and cannot do. “We’ve picked the most direct route for the pipeline,” he said, “to disturb as little land as possible. If we have every state wanting to put up survey stakes, who knows how circuitous that route could be?” ((30 MAR 2011))













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