Putting Keystone XL to a vote?

If you need to catch up, a story from Saturday’s Toronto Globe and Mail provides a good overview of the Keystone XL fight in Nebraska. But a detail toward the end may be a bit confusing.

And if [pushing for a special legislative session this fall] fails, activists have another plan: a ballot initiative. They hope to force a vote, in hopes of compelling the state to enact such legislation. [Jane] Kleeb’s polling suggests they can pull it off. TransCanada dismisses the polling as biased.

The issue is that while individual states can regulate pipeline routes, Nebraska hasn’t designated this authority to any of its agencies. But the legislature isn’t scheduled to convene until January, lawmakers would need to convene earlier to pass any pipeline regulator bills ahead of the State Department’s decision.

The Globe‘s article makes it sound like a ballot initiative establishing pipeline authority could be a possible alternative to the special session. Backers would need about 77,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, a strong likelihood given the prominence the issue has in the state.

There’s only one problem – in order to get the measure on the 2011 ballot, the signatures needed to be filed back in July. Nebraska law requires signatures be submitted no later than four months prior to the general election.

That means, if activists get started now, they have a good chance of getting language on the ballot for the 2012 election. TransCanada, however, plans to begin construction of the pipeline early next year if it gets approval from the State Department. Assuming there are no further legal challenges, much of the pipeline could already be built before Nebraska gets around to asserting its power to control the route.

There’s still time for Nebraska to change the route of the Keystone XL pipeline if it so desires. But it will depend on the legislature, not the voters.

Photo by Holley St. Germain via Creative Commons

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