Updated 2 p.m. Friday
By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — More than two-thirds of Nebraska’s lawmakers — 34 of 49 — have signed a letter urging federal approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, while just three Democrats signed a letter opposing the project.
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, got a super-majority of the state’s lawmakers — 25 Republicans and nine Democrats — to sign the letter, which outlines reasons the oil pipeline would be good for Nebraska and the country.
The letter says, in part: “Our support stems from our state’s firsthand experience working on pipeline siting issues during a 2011 special legislative session; an understanding that the project will create jobs and boost the economy; will be the safest pipeline ever constructed; avoids Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills; will result in an increase in local Nebraska property tax revenue and contributes greatly to the goal of achieving energy security for the United States.”
Smith said last week he began talking to his colleagues about the letter, and he initially 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 on Friday he added five more names. 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” urging the Obama administration not to decide on the permit until the state Public Service Commission reviews the route through Nebraska.
Bold Nebraska contends that in light of a Nebraska judge ruling the state’s pipeline siting law is unconstitutional, the state has no legal, approved Keystone XL 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 that authority rests with the PSC under the state constitution. The state is appealing the court ruling.
“Landowners and citizens time and time again have proven our will and determination,” Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb said in a 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 Nebraska court 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 to lawmakers 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 be expedited, and he expects it will take six or seven months to wind through the courts.
In addition to Smith, the pro-pipeline letter was signed by senators Pete Pirsch, Kathy Campbell, Kate Bolz, Norm Wallman, Lydia Brasch, Russ Karpisek, Mike Gloor, Steve Lathrop, Beau McCoy, John Murante, John Nelson, Galen Hadley, Bill Avery, Ken Schilz, Scott Lautenbaugh, Bill Kintner, John Harms, Dave Bloomfield, Tom Hansen, Heath Mello, Jerry Johnson, Brad Ashford, Mark Christensen, Paul Schumacher, Tommy Garrett, Tom Carlson, Al Davis, Dan Watermeier, Bob Krist, Jim Scheer, John Wightman, Jeremy Nordquist and Burke Harr.
A letter opposing the pipeline was signed by Democratic senators Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, Ken Haar of Malcolm and Annette Dubas of Fullerton.
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