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Protecting Nebraska's Natural Resources

By Governor Dave Heineman


October 28, 2011

Dear Fellow Nebraskans:

For several months now, our state has had an ongoing conversation and discussion about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, currently planned to cross Nebraska’s most precious water resource, the Ogallala Aquifer. As you can imagine, Nebraskans have very strong opinions on this issue, and I appreciate Nebraskans willingness to share their opinions with me.

There are many different opinions on proposed pipelines. Some interest groups are opposed to the pipeline because they don’t want an oil sands pipeline in Nebraska. Labor organizations support the pipeline because of the short term construction jobs associated with the building of the pipeline.

Here is my position - I support the pipeline, but I’m opposed to a route that goes through the Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer. I speak for myself and most Nebraskans when I say we do not want to risk an oil spill or leak over the Aquifer. TransCanada already has a pipeline route on the eastern side of the state. I would support the proposed pipeline being routed by the current pipeline.

The key decision on this pipeline is the permitting decision that will be made by the Obama Administration. That’s why I have urged President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny the permit needed to be obtained through the U.S. Department of State. That will force a change in the route or the pipeline won’t be built. The Obama Administration could also approve the permit, but only if TransCanada changes the route. Either solution would be acceptable to most Nebraskans.

I and other elected officials have asked TransCanada to voluntarily change the route, but they have said no. The Obama Administration has said they will make a permit decision by the end of the year. 

One thing is very clear – the State of Nebraska would have a stronger legal basis for its action if it acted prior to the permit decision by the Obama Administration. In perfect hindsight, the State should have acted several years ago, but that’s not where we are today and we need to move forward. 

Recently, State Senator Mike Flood of Norfolk, Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, indicated he would oppose a Special Session to enact State Senator Annette Dubas of Fullerton’s proposal to establish a siting regulatory scheme. He cited concerns related to federal preemption and special legislation. His concerns are legitimate and justified.

This is a complex and serious legal issue, complicated further by the authority the federal government has for permitting pipelines and the safety of the pipeline. While the state may have some limited siting authority, it is not unlimited and absolute.

My staff and I have had many conversations with Speaker Flood and other Senators about whether the State of Nebraska could act at this stage of the permit process in a legal and constitutional manner. There may be alternatives, but it won’t be easy.

Additionally, we recognize that this is a potential legal mine field. However, Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist. 

That is why I have called a Special Session of the Nebraska Legislature to begin on November 1st. Our state legislators will have an opportunity to have a thoughtful and thorough public discussion about alternative solutions that could impact the route of the pipeline in a legal and constitutional manner. We are committed to protecting Nebraska’s most valuable resource – its water.

I want to thank my fellow Nebraskans for sharing their views with me on this important issue. If you want to make a difference, please write President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and share your views with them. Thank you.


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