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CAPITOL VIEW: Politicians caught in the middle of Keystone XL Pipeline issue PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 16 June 2011 21:07

What role might the proposed Keystone XL pipeline play in Nebraska’s 2012 elections?

The proposed pipeline, which would move sand tar coal across a portion of the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer, is catching almost enough hellfire and brimstone to qualify as a Bible story.

U.S. Sens. Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns have raised a variety of concerns about the thing, which many landowners and environmental interests have labeled as a project whose environmental risks outweigh whatever financial benefits might spring from it.

The specter of oil polluting the aquifer is understandably cause for worry, both environmental and economic.

How do you clean up contamination of underground water?

Interestingly, the U.S. Department of State has yielded at least twice to demands for additional public meetings, so the citizenry can air their grievances and worries.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently told the State Department that the latter’s analysis of the potential environmental impact of the pipeline was woefully inadequate. The State Department keeps saying its final recommendation on the pipeline will come before the end of the year. A reading of political tea leaves would at least suggest that such might not be the case.

Countering the criticism of the pipeline are labor and business interests.

Construction of so huge a thing means jobs by the score. Organized labor has downplayed potential risks, while ballyhooing the paychecks angle.

What ground will Republican Senate hopefuls Don Stenberg and Jon Bruning stake out? Amid Democrats pointing fingers and clamoring over it, Bruning returned a $2,500 political contribution to the pipeline company. (Republican Gov. Dave Heineman did the same.)

Stenberg appears to have straddled the issue, saying a pipeline is needed, but that he opposes it in close proximity to the aquifer.

Democrat Nelson and Republican Johanns have effectively been on the warpath – though not walking companions – demanding more answers and information on the project.

In Nebraska politics, one would ordinarily expect candidates to stumble over each other yelling Huzzahs for any large-scale project connected to the magic words – economic development.

Nelson doesn’t want to be accused of depriving Nebraskans of jobs, nor do any of the Republicans. But neither do any of them want their name connected with a project that has an honest potential for environmental havoc. It is hardly possible to overstate the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to the Cornhusker state.


Another candidate for GOP Senate nomination?

State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine might have declared her candidacy for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate by the time you find this column in your local newspaper.

Fischer made a name for herself during eight years in the Legislature. Her most noticeable achieving from enacting a law that will – for the first time – guarantee roads projects a share of the state’s sales tax dollars.

She believes she can be a competitive fundraiser in the primary.

The Republican who ultimately challenges Nelson in the November election probably won’t have to worry about money. The national GOP and several conservative groups have targeted Nelson as ripe for defeat if he seeks a third term.


ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.