Landowners’ attorney wants state to come to table on Keystone XL

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – The attorney representing landowners who got a Nebraska pipeline siting law struck down last week says the state should come to the table with landowners opposing the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

HOTBED: Nebraska has been a hotbed of resistance to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, but an attorney representing landowners says the state should come to the table to try to hammer out a solution.

In the wake of the judge’s ruling striking down a Nebraska law that shifted major oil pipeline approval from the state Public Service Commission to the state’s environmental regulator and governor, Dave Domina believes lawmakers should address the issue again, but more “thoughtfully and deliberatively” this time around.

“There is common ground that can be reached here,” he said. “And that’s because Nebraska doesn’t get to decide whether the pipeline goes through.”

That’s up to the U.S. State Department and Obama administration, which will decide whether to grant TransCanada a federal permit to cross the border and carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries. But the state sets the rules for the pipeline route through Nebraska.

In his view, the state has four options, given last week’s ruling:

• Wait for its appeal to the state Supreme Court to wind through the process, which would take about a year.

• Try to solve the problem with legislation. Although lawmakers are in session, the deadline for bill introduction has passed, but a new bill could be introduced with the approval of 30 of the 49 senators. Or the issue could be taken up in a special session, which would mark the second on Keystone XL.

• Do both of the above simultaneously.

• Wait to deal with it until next year.

The bulk of the law deemed unconstitutional was cobbled together by amendment on the floor of the Legislature during the waning days of the 2012 session. Lawmakers repealed legislation passed during the 2011 special session giving the PSC the authority to regulate major oil pipelines.

“The Legislature made a mistake,” Domina said. “It made a mistake in a rush.”

While the PSC interprets last week’s ruling to mean the 2011 laws stand, Domina isn’t so sure. Just because the judge struck down the 2012 law doesn’t mean the 2011 laws are reinstated, he said.

“I think there’s too little left to the old law for it work without legislation,” he said.

The PSC process is more formal, with sworn testimony and evidence presented during a hearing.

Domina thinks the state should try to fix the situation by passing a new law “with careful study” and a “deliberative process” rather than wait a year for the state Supreme Court to rule. His clients have long said they just want to be treated responsibly and fairly.

“Most landowners have organized because of the way TransCanada has behaved,” he said. “Not because they don’t want a pipeline.”

DOMINA: Dave Domina has represented Nebraska landowners fighting the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would bisect the state.

If a pipeline is going to be built through Nebraska, they want it built in “an intelligent place,” owned and operated by a “proper” owner that “conducts itself properly” and treats landowners fairly, Domina said.

Since the 2011 special session, no attempts have been made by lawmakers to talk to landowners about what they think are reasonable terms and conditions. Two big ones for landowners are a requirement that the owner take out the pipeline if it gets worn out and that they be paid annually rather than just get a one-time payment for the easement.

“My clients are ready and willing; they have very specific ideas,” Domina said. “

Sen. Jim Smith, R-Papillion, who introduced the law that was tossed out last week, said Thursday he’d heard no talk of new legislation.

“I think the process in place is this appeal,” he said. “I don’t see the resolution to the current status of this being additional legislation.”

The governor’s office did not comment, beyond the governor’s comment last week that he supports the attorney general’s decision to appeal the ruling.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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