Bold Nebraska draws the line - ranchers and farmers have built a renewable energy powered barn in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. Photo: 350.org via Flickr.com.
Nebraska court decision halts Keystone XL pipeline
Sophie Morlin Yron
21st February 2014
The Keystone XL pipeline was dealt a blow in a Nebraska court this week when a key enabling law was ruled 'unconstitutional' - bringing the controversial project to a standstill in the state.
We're ecstatic. It shows our elected officials have to be held accountable for their actions.
A court has struck down the Nebraska law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed through the state.
Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy issued a ruling Wednesday that invalidated Nebraska governor Dave Heineman's approval of the route.
Stacy said that the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
The ruling has put an indefinite halt to the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sand pits in Canada to refineries in Texas.
State law ruled unconstitutional
The landowners who brought the lawsuit argued that the law violated the Nebraska Constitution by giving regulatory control over pipelines not to the Commission, but to the governor and the Department of Environmental Quality.
The judge, who also declared the state's approval of the Keystone XL route "null and void", agreed. "The court finds no set of circumstances under which such provisions could be constitutional", she said.
Susan Dunavan, one of the landowners said: "We're ecstatic. It shows our elected officials have to be held accountable for their actions."
Omaha attorney David Domina, who represented the landowners said: "The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state."
Although the ruling puts the controversial project at a halt, appeals are expected and the company can still apply for permission from the Public Service Commision, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.
"We are disappointed and disagree with the decision", said Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline.
Attorney General Jon Bruning filed notice that he intends to appeal the ruling. Governor Heineman said he supported the decision to appeal.
First route denied by Obama due to environmental threat
In 2012, the company needed a new route after the president had denied their first application.
The new law gave TransCanada an alternative way to obtain route approval without the Public Service Commission process.
Nebraska officials requested that the new route reduce the threat of environmental impact by avoiding the Sand Hills and the region's Ogallala Aquifer.
The Governor approved the new route in January 2013, after the department concluded that the project presented little threat of widespread groundwater contamination.
The project is now awaiting another review by federal agencies before Obama decides whether to approve it.
TransCanada could also apply immediately to the Public Service Commission for a new Nebraska route. As of Wednesday it had not done so, said the Commission.
Opponents call for new review of environmental impact
Jane Kleeb, director of pipeline opponent Bold Nebraska, said the State Department will have to do a new environmental review in Nebraska if the company succeeds in gaining approval for a new route.
She said she predicted more lawsuits by environmental groups if the State Department moves forward without waiting for the issues in Nebraska to be settled.
The $5.4 billion pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of heavy oil sands crude daily from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Sophie Morlin Yron is a freelance journalist.
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