Pipeline siting bill clears second round

Senators gave second-round approval Nov. 17 to a bill that would provide a regulatory framework for siting oil pipelines in Nebraska.

LB1, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would create the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act. Among other provisions, the bill would define a major oil pipeline as one larger than six inches in diameter and establish an application process for routing a major oil pipeline in Nebraska.

LB1 previously was amended on general file to not apply to any major oil pipeline that has submitted an application to the U.S. Secretary of State prior to the bill’s effective date.

A select file amendment offered by Dubas and adopted 41-0 replaced the bill.

Under the amended bill, the Public Service Commission (PSC) would be responsible for evaluating and approving applications, as well as holding public hearings to gather citizen input. An applicant would be assessed the cost of any public hearings and investigations relating to the application. In addition, an approved application would be required prior to a company being granted eminent domain rights.

An application to construct a major oil pipeline would be required to include a statement of the reasons for selecting a proposed route and evidence of consideration of alternative routes, among other information.

Original provisions in LB1 requiring an estimated number of individuals to be employed during construction and operation of the pipeline and a list of locations along the proposed route that would be in proximity to unusually sensitive ground water areas were removed by the Dubas amendment.

“I think this streamlines the process for the pipeline company applicant,” Dubas said.

Among other changes, the amendment also would:
• add a hydrogeologist to the list of consultants;
• add utility corridor consideration for a proposed route;
• require submission of agency reports only if requested by the PSC;
• specify a 60-day time frame for the PSC to schedule a public hearing;
• change the decision-making timeline for the PSC from eight months to seven; and
• change the possible extension from 18 months after a public hearing to 12 months after receipt of an application.

Dubas said several senators were particularly concerned about timelines in the original bill.

“Many comments were made about shortening the time frame of the application and the ultimate decision,” she said. “I am very satisfied with the changes and the cooperative process we went through.”

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids supported the bill and the amendment, saying they would constitute a sound process for siting future oil pipelines.

“[LB1] simply puts in place a process that will be clear to everyone,” she said. “It will work for everyone involved.”

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher offered an amendment that would have permitted the state to lay, relay, operate and maintain fiber optic cable in a major oil pipeline right-of-way. Schumacher said the state should reserve the right to use fiber optic cable in the future to protect pipelines from security threats.

Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley opposed the amendment, saying it would be a major change in state policy that should not be undertaken without a full public hearing on the issue.

The Schumacher amendment failed on a 2-27 vote.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm introduced an amendment that would have defined the Sandhills region as an “avoidance area” where pipelines could not be routed unless no reasonable alternative was available. He said the amendment was in response to public testimony given on the various bills introduced during the special session.

“The overwhelming message was that they wanted legislation that made it clear that the Sandhills should be avoided,” Haar said.

Sullivan opposed the Haar amendment, saying the application process outlined in LB1 and LB4 would provide sufficient protection for the Sandhills.

“I think that if we go forward with these two pieces of legislation, we can address your concerns,” she said.

Haar withdrew the amendment.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery introduced, and later withdrew, an amendment that would have required applicants to disclose documents relating to the application process except those that otherwise lawfully could be withheld.

Lawmakers also gave second-round approval to LB2. Introduced by Lexington Sen. John Wightman, the bill would appropriate funds for special session expenses.

Both bills advanced on voice votes.

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