The Keystone XL pipeline is on hold in Nebraska’s courts. A judge ruled Wednesday the law under which Gov. Dave Heineman approved the pipeline’s route is unconstitutional. Within hours, the attorney general announced an appeal.
Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy issued her long-awaited ruling Wednesday. In it, she said the law passed by the Legislature in 2012 giving the governor power to approve the pipeline route in the state violates the Nebraska Constitution.
“Essentially what the court’s ruling means is that TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska; it has no authority to exercise eminent domain in Nebraska” said David Domina, who represented the landowners challenging the law.
The ruling hinged on a section of the Nebraska Constitution that gives the state’s Public Service Commission the power to regulate what are known as “common carriers.” In her decision, Judge Stacy held that oil pipelines are common carriers, and therefore the law passed by the Legislature violates the constitution.
She said Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the pipeline route in January of last year is null and void, and state officials are prohibited from taking any actions based on that decision.
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, sponsor of LB1161, the bill the Legislature passed giving the governor route approval authority, said he’s disappointed in the decision. “In 2012 the Legislature discussed LB1161 at length – at great length – and 44 members of the Unicameral as well as the governor thought that we had passed good legislation,” Smith said.
Jane Kleeb of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska said in a published statement, "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.”
Shawn Howard, spokesman for TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, said that company is disappointed and disagrees with the decision.
Even though it had 30 days to decide, within hours of Judge Stacy’s decision, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s office announced it would appeal. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Wang hailed that announcement. “The governor is pleased that Attorney General Bruning is appealing that decision. He feels that this is an important issue for the state of Nebraska,” Wang said.
In Washington, where the State Department is analyzing whether or not the proposed pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Texas is in the national interest, a spokesman said the department’s aware of the Nebraska decision, but would not comment about ongoing litigation.