By Michael Avok
LINCOLN, Neb (Reuters) - Nebraska governor Dave Heineman signed into law on Tuesday bills to reroute the Keystone XL pipeline away from the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region.
One bill puts into law a compromise agreed with Keystone pipeline builder TransCanada to move the route away from the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer. The second bill approves state funding for an environmental study for a new pipeline route not to exceed $2 million.
By law, the governor now has the final say in state government on the new route. The U.S. Secretary of State has the final say nationally.
After working with Nebraska lawmakers last week, TransCanada Corp. agreed to find a new route for its pipeline. Earlier this month, the State Department ordered the company to find a new route for the line in a decision that set back the $7 billion, Canada-to-Texas pipeline by more than a year.
The pipeline would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta's oil sands to Texas refineries. But environmentalists strongly oppose the project, because of concerns about spills and carbon emissions from production of oil sands crude.
Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday voted unanimously to move the pipeline and to spend money on the environmental study, sending the bills to Heineman's desk.
He was quick to sign them, bringing to a close a 15-day special legislative session called solely to craft pipeline regulations.
"Our work is done," Heineman said. "I want to say thank you to our citizens and our lawmakers."
At issue was the potential environmental impact a pipeline could have on the Sandhills region and the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water to many cities and ranches and supports the agriculture industry with water for irrigation.
Nebraska forged ahead with pipeline legislation even after the State Department's decision to put off giving TransCanada a permit for the Keystone XL line until 2013.
(Writing and reporting by Michael Avok; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)