Flow of politics disrupts Keystone XL pipeline


By Hannah Gill, Contributor

Dave Domina may have lost his bid for Senate, but his role as lawyer for the plaintiffs in Nebraska may give him more influence in the debate surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline. An attorney on the initial case and Domina’s stepson, Brian Jorde, used strong language opposing the pipeline at Domina’s election night party.
“Dave is for landowner’s rights, individual liberties and defending the Constitution—something that Republicans should all be for,” Jorde said to Omaha News reporter Zarmina Niazie. “That’s the reason he and I handled that case.”
Midterm election results shook the Keystone XL pipeline’s future as debate surrounding the pipeline hardened along partisan lines. Struck down by the final meeting of a Democratic majority Senate, the bill to bypass executive power by requiring approval is expected to be a primary issue for the new Congress.
Dr. James Carroll, emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said gains by Nebraska Democrats would not have changed the political landscape.
“The elections seem to hinge around different things,” Carroll said. “One junior senator isn’t going to make one damn bit of difference.”
Thanks to Republican wins, the bill will be filibuster-proof, but is not yet able to defeat a potential veto. Creighton University professor Ernie Goss, the principal investigator for an economic study on the pipeline, agrees with political analysts this may be forthcoming.
“If the bill is passed and it goes to the President, he is very likely—almost 100 percent—to veto it,” Goss said.
President Barack Obama recently said in a press conference he takes a “dim view” of the legislation and his overall tone has advocated patience. Obama is currently waiting for the decision of a Supreme Court case in Nebraska to rule on the issue. However, Goss says he sees this as political maneuvering by a reluctant executive official.
“He has been waiting for almost everything,” Goss said. “I don’t think Obama has been on board with this the entire time. President Obama, rather than taking a stand, has sort of put it off on someone else.”
The court case in question has been in discussion since September. Farmers and ranchers from rural Nebraska sued Gov. Dave Heineman, Patrick Rice, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and State Treasurer Don Stenberg for unlawful use of tax dollars and eminent domain.
Heineman used executive authority to push the pipeline approval through without a ruling from the Public Service Commission, which had been named by the legislature to regulate pipelines. This action was the opposite of federal tactics to pass the pipeline.
The governor also funded a study by the NDEQ, which was reimbursed by TransCanada, to evaluate the pipeline’s effect on Nebraska. The plaintiff’s claim this was illegal use of tax dollars.
“It was never in his authority to begin with and if they follow that, they shouldn’t approve the pipeline,” said Larry Bradley, UNO adjunct professor and former minority representative for the NDEQ.
Republicans won most state elections, with the exception of Democrat Brad Ashford, who defeated incumbent Lee Terry in the 2nd District Congressional race. After two terms as governor, Heineman’s Republican successor Pete Ricketts also supports the pipeline.
Nearly all state officials have supported for the pipeline. However, the officials have platformed on support for the pipeline, while the elections focused on education and prison overcrowding rather than environmental and energy policy.
Chuck Hassebrook lost the gubernatorial election, but said the issues he supported will continue past the race.
“This campaign was never about me,” Hassebrook said during his concession speech. “These objectives are never won or lost in a single battle.”
While Hassebrook opposed the pipeline, Ricketts has been quoted as “skeptical” of man-made climate change. He said eminent domain use against landowners is justified by job creation and lowering dependence on oil from other continents. An ad run by Ricketts in the York News Times reads, “The Keystone XL pipeline will drive the engines that power Nebraska’s economy,” and quotes Goss’s study.
TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper said the company will continue to listen to Nebraskans, and emphasize the project, delayed for six years, could get “9,000 men and women to work overnight,” providing oil “from a friendly neighbor.” Republicans echo support for the 4,650 direct to 41,000 indirect estimated jobs created by the pipeline and tote oil security, but face opposition from rural Nebraskans, who see eminent domain and potential spills as a threat to their livelihood.
They are a minority, with roughly six in ten Americans support the Keystone XL pipeline according to the Pew Research Center, a number that has dropped seven points since last year as it sheds Democratic and independent supporters. The Democrats are split on the issue, with 43 percent approving and 45 percent opposing. Obama also has a 15 point lead over Republicans, with 35 percent favoring his approach to environmental policy.
Cooper said the previous vote was a bipartisan effort, and TransCanada is “hopeful” this will “get the project built” with the President’s support.
“It has given us a lot of encouragement and momentum going into the next year,” Cooper said. “We’re listening to Nebraskans and we are going to continue.”
Junior Shane Cavlovic said he is “definitely an environmentalist,” who has set up recycling programs at past jobs and sorts the trash and recycling bins on campus. He considers himself “with the farmers” for land rights, and encourages people to voice support.
“If you leave it in western rural Nebraska, Omahans are going to see it as a rural Nebraska problem,” Cavlovic said. “I think this would be a great political victory for Nebraskans, if they were able to stop it.”
Republicans in Congress will have to wait until the session reconvenes in 2015 to try for victory with their bill. However, if Obama vetoes the bill, the Keystone XL pipeline may be pushed back until 2016 before it receives enough political support. In the meantime, opponents and supporters will have to wait out the political stalemate.
“Luckily, I am an economist, so I just do the analysis and the political leaders make that decision,” Goss said. “That’s why they get elected to office, to make those big decisions.”