Environmental impact study amendment discussed

The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Nov. 15 on a proposed amendment that would authorize the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to collaborate with the federal government on a supplemental environmental impact study for oil pipeline projects in Nebraska.

AM37 is a proposed amendment to LB4, a measure introduced by Schuyler Sen. Chris Langemeier that would have given pipeline siting authority to the governor.

Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood said he introduced the amendment in response to a TransCanada announcement Nov. 14 that the company will reroute the Keystone XL pipeline out of the Sandhills region. Flood said his proposal would allow Nebraska input on where the pipeline will be relocated.

“This [proposal] allows Nebraska to have a substantive say on the new proposed route,” Flood said.

The measure would apply to proposed pipelines larger than eight inches in inside diameter that are constructed or operated in Nebraska for the transportation of petroleum or petroleum components, products or wastes.

AM37 would authorize DEQ to enter into a memorandum of understanding with federal agencies outlining responsibilities and schedules involved in a supplemental environmental impact study (EIS).

Under the amendment, DEQ would be authorized to contract with outside vendors in preparing the supplemental study. In addition, the department would be required to make every reasonable effort to ensure that no vendor has a conflict of interest or relationship to any pipeline carrier that applies for an oil pipeline permit.

Flood said Nebraskans in the Sandhills had expressed concern that TransCanada paid for consultants involved in the federal study for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“That happens to be commonplace in the industry … but it didn’t sit well up in Holt County,” he said.

To avoid any appearance of impropriety, Flood said his amendment would require Nebraska to fully fund the process and preparation of a supplemental EIS.

“If you pay for it, you know you’re getting it done objectively,” he said. “It’s our people, our water, our land … I think the taxpayers should pay for this because this belongs to us.”

Under the amendment, the governor would be required to indicate to the federal government in writing either approval or disapproval of the route outlined in the state’s supplemental EIS within 30 days of receiving a report from DEQ.

Robert Jones of TransCanada spoke in favor of the proposal, saying it would create an effective and timely way for Nebraska to provide input on alternative routes for the Keystone XL pipeline.

“TransCanada has been part of Nebraska for the last three decades,” Jones said. “We’ll continue to be part of this great state for decades to come.”

Ken Winston of the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club also testified in support. Nebraska state agencies can provide unique knowledge and insight into the best possible route for future pipelines, he said.

“Seeing the participation of thousands of Nebraskans throughout this process has made me proud to be a Nebraskan,” Winston said.

Emily McKeone of Lincoln testified in opposition to the proposal. McKeone expressed skepticism of TransCanada’s sudden willingness to reroute the Keystone pipeline away from the Sandhills.

“They previously told us that it was impossible,” she said. “As a citizen of Nebraska, I would demand to see the agreement between TransCanada and the state of Nebraska.”

The amendment will be considered during general file debate on LB4, which is scheduled to continue Nov. 16 at 9 a.m.

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