Legal Decision Creates Fresh Uncertainty for Keystone

CUSHING, OK - MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Feb. 19, 2014, 11:59 a.m.

A Neb­raska judge on Wed­nes­day threw out a state law au­thor­iz­ing Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Dave Heine­man’s ap­prov­al of a path for the Key­stone XL pipeline through the state, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ports.

Dis­trict Court Judge Stephanie F. Stacy con­cluded that the law vi­ol­ated the state con­sti­tu­tion, and stated that jur­is­dic­tion for route ap­prov­al rests in­stead with the Neb­raska Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion.

Heine­man quickly told the court he would ap­peal the de­cision.

The de­cision is an­oth­er bump in the road for the con­tro­ver­sial pro­posed pipeline, which would trans­port crude from Al­berta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. Fi­nal au­thor­ity to ap­prove or re­ject the pro­ject rests with Pres­id­ent Obama be­cause it would cross the U.S.-Canada bor­der, and the pro­ject is un­der State De­part­ment re­view.

Ac­cord­ing to the Omaha World-Her­ald, the rul­ing won’t im­pact an ex­ec­ut­ive-branch de­term­in­a­tion on the pro­ject, but it will likely com­pel Tran­sCanada, the com­pany set to build the pipeline, to go back to the draw­ing board in Neb­raska and ask the state to re­approve the route.

Tran­sCanada said of the de­cision: “We are dis­ap­poin­ted and dis­agree with the de­cision. We will now ana­lyze the judg­ment and de­cide what next steps may be taken. Tran­sCanada con­tin­ues to be­lieve strongly in Key­stone XL and the be­ne­fits it would provide to Amer­ic­ans — thou­sands of jobs and a se­cure sup­ply of crude oil from a trus­ted neigh­bour in Canada.” 

An en­vir­on­ment­al­ist bat­tling Key­stone called on the State De­part­ment to stop the clock on its re­view.

An­thony Swift, an at­tor­ney with the Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, called for the State De­part­ment to pause in or­der to “give Neb­raska the op­por­tun­ity to de­term­ine Key­stone XL’s route in ac­cord­ance with its laws.”

The State De­part­ment is con­duct­ing a 90-day re­view to de­term­ine wheth­er ap­prov­ing Key­stone is in the “na­tion­al in­terest,” a pro­cess set in mo­tion by the Jan. 31 re­lease of a fi­nal en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact ana­lys­is.

The con­sult­ing firm Clear­View En­ergy Part­ners on Thursday said the court de­cision could delay the fed­er­al re­view while ques­tions about ap­prov­al of the pipeline route through Neb­raska are worked out.

“Yes­ter­day’s rul­ing could give the State De­part­ment and the White House a reas­on to ex­tend the on­go­ing Na­tion­al In­terest De­term­in­a­tion pro­cess,” the firm said in a short ana­lys­is.

Ben Ge­man con­trib­uted.

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