Claims of unconstitutionality cloud debate on oil pipeline legislation (AUDIO)

Legal questions cloud debate this week as the legislature takes up an oil pipeline regulation bill.
Natural Resources Committee members heard plenty of testimony from TransCanada’s legal team asserting that the legislation being considered in the special session is unconstitutional.
Committee member, Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, quizzed Attorney Patrick Pepper of McGrath-North during his testimony before the committee about his contention that legislation in the special session wouldn’t stand up in court.
“Have you seen any of the bills that, in your opinion, are not unconstitutional at this point?” Haar asked.
“No,” came the curt reply from Pepper.
“Do you believe we could do a bill that would be constitutional at this point?” asked Haar.
“Given the background and the context in which this special session has been called, I think it is really unlikely,” Pepper replied.
TransCanada’s claim that legislation violates the constitution is three-fold. Pepper and other lawyers speaking for the company told the committee that the legislation considered targets a specific project, the Keystone XL pipeline, which isn’t allowed under the constitution. Pepper further claims all the legislation filed in the special session violates the federal commerce clause and encroaches on safety issues which are federal, not state, issues.
The Natural Resources Committee considered four bills, three on routing and one requiring pipeline companies to post $500 million indemnity bonds. The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit a company from using eminent domain until it acquires a federal or state permit.
The Unicameral begins debate this afternoon on LB4, sponsored by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Chris Langemeier of Schuyler. It would give the governor the power to determine the route of oil pipelines in Nebraska. The governor would be advised by a special panel established by the bill.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, who filed two bills in the special session, countered that the claims from TransCanada were incredulous, at one point calling them “spectacularly unbelievable”.
“We are a sovereign state. We are a sovereign people with sovereign rights to protect our interests. We not only have the right, but the obligation to protect our land, resources and people and I urge you not to shrink from that responsibility,” Avery told the Natural Resources Committee.
AUDIO: TransCanada attorney Patrick Pepper speaks before Natural Resources Committee [8 min mp3]
AUDIO: Sen. Bill Avery rejects TransCanada’s legal assertion during close before committee [1:40 mp3]