Bill authorizing pipeline environmental study advances

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Nov. 16 to a bill 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.

Introduced by Schuyler Sen. Chris Langemeier, LB4 originally would have given pipeline siting authority to the governor.

An amendment offered by Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood and adopted on a 44-0 vote replaced the bill. As amended, LB4 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.

The bill 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).

In addition, DEQ would be authorized to contract with outside vendors in preparing the supplemental study. 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. The bill also would waive the state’s competitive bidding requirements.

“This was done to give DEQ the ability to perform such extensive undertakings in an expedited form,” Flood said.

Flood said Nebraskans in the Sandhills had expressed concern about TransCanada paying for consultants involved in the federal study for the Keystone XL pipeline. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, he said, LB4 would require Nebraska to fully fund the state portion of the process and preparation of a supplemental EIS.

“I felt that you can remove a lot of that concern … by having the state pay for it,” Flood said. “If it’s important enough to do on behalf of our citizens, it’s important enough to pay for.”

Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms agreed, saying he was bothered by TransCanada paying for the federal study. Nebraska citizens would want to be assured of transparency and objectivity in a supplemental study, he said.

“As a senator, I would want to own that study,” Harms said. “Whatever it costs is worth it for us and the taxpayers.”

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln questioned the need to deviate from the traditional practice of having an applicant pay the fees required to carry out an evaluation process. She said a variety of models currently exist in state law requiring applicants to pay fees, including rate cases before the Public Service Commission and assessing court costs to litigants.

Flood said obtaining reliable information through a process that Nebraskans can feel good about is important for the Keystone XL pipeline and for future projects as well.

“I think it has value – not just in this situation, but down the road,” he said.

Furthermore, Flood said, participating in a supplemental study is optional under the bill, so the state would not be mandated to pay for such studies for all future proposed pipeline routes.

As amended, LB4 also would require the governor 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.

“This is another line of defense for the citizens to make sure that their governor weighs in on a supplemental environmental impact study,” Flood said.

Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz supported the proposal, saying it would allow Nebraska to protect its environmental resources while still utilizing them for economic benefit through job creation and tax revenue.

“We all have to remember what is at stake,” Schilz said.

LB4 advanced to select file on a 45-0 vote.

Senators also gave first-round approval to LB4A, which would appropriate $2 million from the general fund to DEQ to carry out the provisions of LB4.

The measure advanced on a 44-0 vote.

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