By Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s new top pipeline regulator has agreed to recuse himself from working on TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline through the state if the company makes another attempt to do so.

Scott Coburn agreed to the requirement as a condition of his hiring by the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Tuesday. The commission voted 4-1 to make Coburn director of its division that regulates national gas and oil pipelines. Coburn is a civil engineer who previously worked for TransCanada.

“I’m very confident in his integrity,” said commission Executive Director Jeff Pursley.

Commissioner Crystal Rhoades said she cast the dissenting vote because she believes the hire appears as a conflict of interest.

“There will be stakeholders who will believe the process was tainted from the beginning because they will view this applicant as a fox guarding the hen house,” Rhoades said.



Pursley said he received about 10 complaints from those who opposed the hire. No public comments were offered regarding Coburn’s hiring at the meeting, which Coburn didn’t attend.

It’s been 10 years since Coburn worked for a natural gas company controlled by TransCanada Corp., and he was recently employed as a senior adviser by Enbridge Inc., another big player in the North American pipeline industry.

Rhoades said she’s worried Coburn will have to recuse himself from applications by the two companies or their subsidiaries.

“The commission would be paying for an employee who cannot perform the essential functions of their job,” she said.

Pursley disagreed and said that 99 percent of the division’s regulatory responsibility involves Black Hills Energy and Northern Natural Gas. The commission now hires consultants for engineering and technical work, so Coburn would be able to give some of that expertise in house.

Coburn’s hiring revealed lingering concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline project, which was shelved last year when the federal government rejected a permit the company needed for construction. TransCanada could opt to reapply for the project if a Republican should win the presidential race in November.

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