A judge has overturned a law approving passage for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska, saying that Gov. John Heineman overstepped his authority in the case when he granted permission in Jan. 2013 for a new pipeline route through the state.
Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Wednesday that Heineman’s approval was invalid because the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling is likely to bring further delay to the project, which aims to bring tar sands crude oil from mines in Alberta across the continental US to refineries near Houston.
Environmentalists have vocally opposed the pipeline, saying it will unleash a torrent of carbon pollution on the world, exacerbating climate change and prolonging the transition to cleaner, renewable energy.
Two years ago, a coalition of environmentalists, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska picketed the governor’s mansion and the state’s unicameral legislature to turn down the pipeline, which was originally routed to pass through Nebraska’s delicate Sand Hills region. The opposition won a reprieve and pipeline construction stopped for a time. Later Heineman approved a new route for the pipeline.
Three landowners sued, claiming Heineman did not have the authority to go around the state’s regulatory body, and today, Judge Stacy agreed.
Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, the umbrella group for the Keystone opposition in Nebraska, issued a statement expressing the landowners elation at winning the case.
“Citizens won today. We beat a corrupt bill that Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Legislature passed in order to pave the way for a foreign corporation to run roughshod over American landowners,” Kleeb said. “We look forward to the Public Service Commission giving due process to a route that TransCanada will have to now submit to this proper regulatory body in Nebraska. TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water.”
Dave Domina, the lawyer who handled the case for the landowners said that under the court’s ruling “TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska.”
“TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this State," Domina said.
The court's 50-page opinion criticizes the law that enabled the new pipeline route as unconstitutional. Given the pipeline’s status as a “common carrier” (of public goods), it would need to be regulated by the Public Service Commission under the Nebraska Constitution, according to the ruling.
The full expanse of the 1,700 mile pipeline has not been approved, though President Obama gave permission for construction of the southern leg through Oklahoma and Texas. Citizens also opposed the pipeline in those states, with landowners and protesters setting up several citizen actions, including a tree sit-in, along the pipeline’s construction path.
The full Keystone pipeline requires the permission of the US State Department because it crosses an international border at Montana and Alberta.