South Dakota lawmakers will almost certainly consider legislation during the 2012 session that would further protect the state from harmful impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
But Gov. Dennis Daugaard won't be sponsoring any of those bills. Nor is he likely to support such bills brought by others, an aide to the governor said.
The announcement last week by the U.S. Department of State that it is delaying a decision on the pipeline, pending more than a year of further review, changed Daugaard's interest in seeking more protection for South Dakota against damage from the pipeline. Depending on the specifics of those upgrades, he was likely to introduce legislation on Keystone XL during the legislative session that begins in January.
The State Department released changed all that.
"The federal government has delayed this project by at least 18 months, and the governor doesn't think it makes sense to pursue new legislation until that process concludes," Daugaard aide Tony Venhuizen said. "For that reason, he won't be bringing any legislation this year and would be very unlikely to support bills brought by others."
That doesn't mean that such legislation won't be introduced, however. Dakota Rural Action, a South Dakota group advocating for conservation and family-farm issues, has pushed unsuccessfully in two previous legislative sessions to create a $30 million clean-up bond funded by TransCanada, the Canadian corporation proposing the pipeline.
DRA leaders say they will bring such a measure again in 2012.They also are planning legislation to strengthen landowners' positions in the eminent-domain process, which can authorize landowners' property to be committed to the pipeline without their consent
Buffalo area rancher and DRA member Bret Clanton said the State Department delay will be important to the DRA effort on the pipeline.
"I think it gives us more time to pursue the legislation we're looking at for South Dakota," said Clanton, whose property would be crossed by about three miles of the line.
Paul Seamans of Draper, a member of the DRA board of directors, said the State Department announcement made him "very happy." It also showed that people banding together with one voice can be heard, Seamans said.
"This shows what can happen if enough people get involved," he said. "Dakota Rural Action has been on this issue for 3-1/2 or 4 years, and we felt like we were kind of alone in the wilderness. But it really snowballed in the last year."
With the focus on the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills and the underlying Ogallala aquifer, Nebraska stood out for its broad-based opposition to the pipeline. And when Native American tribes and national environmental groups joined in the existing web of opposition, political power coalesced.
Venhuizen said Gov. Daugaard is disappointed in the State Department decision. The governor still supports the project. But after TransCanada offered Nebraska $100 million in bonding for environmental protection, Daugaard was seeking some of the same for South Dakota.
He had begun that process before last week's State Department announcement. He had been in preliminary discussions with TransCanada about what else they could offer the state, beyond the protections provided in stipulations made imposed by the state Public Utilities Commission.
"He wanted to make sure that if Nebraska got some concessions, South Dakota got the same," said Dusty Johnson, a former PUC chairman and current Daugaard chief of staff. "There isn't any reason that Nebraska land should get more protection than South Dakota land, or landowners."
Seamans, whose land would be crossed by 1-1/2 miles of the pipeline, agrees with that. But he fears that the governor's opposition to Keystone XL legislation in 2012 will make it difficult for DRA to get needed support on its pipeline bills.
"I'm a little disappointed that he seems to be backing off," Seamans said of Daugaard. "The problem with that mindset is that a lot of legislators follow the governor."
Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or email@example.com