Nearly two-thirds of NE lawmakers sign letter supporting Keystone XL

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — A Papillion senator says 29 of Nebraska’s 49 lawmakers have signed a letter urging federal approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Nebraska has been a hotbed of resistance over the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada and crude oil from North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries. But Sen. Jim Smith, R-Papillion, was able to get a majority of the state’s lawmakers to sign the letter, which outlines reasons the oil pipeline is good for Nebraska and the country.

PUT IT IN A LETTER: A Papillion senator says 29 of Nebraska’s 49 lawmakers have signed onto a letter urging federal approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Smith said last week he began talking to his colleagues about the letter, and he collected 29 signatures before submitting it to the U.S. State Department, which is in the final stage of determining whether to approve a permit to allow TransCanada to build the pipeline across the Canadian border.

Smith said he didn’t get around to all Nebraska lawmakers before sending the letter to meet the deadline for public comment, and several others have said they would have signed it, too. Smith said he wanted to show the State Department a majority of senators support the pipeline.

“It’s urban senators and it’s rural senators,” he said. “It’s Republicans and it’s Democrats. That’s the Nebraska way. We kind of blur the lines in the support of this project.”

Smith has been a leading proponent of the pipeline project, and he has been excoriated by pipeline fighters for it.

Bold Nebraska, a grassroots group that has organized opposition to the pipeline in Nebraska, responded by asking lawmakers to sign “an alternative letter” asking the Obama administration not to decide on the permit until the state Public Service Commission reviews the route through Nebraska.

Sen. Jim Smith

Bold Nebraska says because of a Nebraska judge’s recent ruling the state’s pipeline siting law unconstitutional, the state has no legal, approved route through Nebraska, and TransCanada has no right to condemn property for the pipeline. Smith introduced the legislation that gave pipeline siting authority to the governor and state environmental regulators. But a judge ruled the state constitution gives that authority to the PSC. The state is appealing the ruling but, in the meantime, Bold wants TransCanada to seek PSC approval of its route.

“Landowners and citizens time and time again have proven our will and determination,” Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb said in the letter to lawmakers.

The Obama administration denied approval of the pipeline in 2012 because Nebraska had no legally permitted route, and pipeline fighters are hoping the recent judge’s ruling will give Obama political cover to delay or deny the project.

“Regardless of whether you support or oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, you should support requiring TransCanada and the State Department to follow our state law and our state constitution,” Kleeb’s letter said.

Smith said that’s up to the court system to decide, not Bold Nebraska.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said Wednesday he has asked that the appeal of the judge’s ruling be expedited, and he expects it will take six or seven months to wind through the courts.

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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