Nebraska ruling upholds Keystone XL route

WASHINGTON — A split decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upholds the route Keystone XL would take through the state and boosts pressure on President Barack Obama to decide the fate of the proposed pipeline.

Because the Nebraska court fractured over whether critics of a law allowing swift approval of a new route through the state had legal standing to challenge it, the panel did not reach a substantive decision on the facts of the case. That left a lower court ruling and the challenged law in place.

“The legislation must stand by default,” the court said.

The ruling now shifts attention to the nation’s capital, where the State Department, Congress and the White House all are playing a role in deciding whether TransCanada Corp. wins a permit to build the $8 billion border-crossing pipeline.

The White House has cited uncertainty over the Nebraska litigation and the importance of an ongoing State Department review in threatening to veto legislation that would immediately approve Keystone. The Nebraska ruling removes one of those two hurdles, right as Congress plunges into a debate over the bill.

The House of Representatives is set to pass the measure on Friday, and the Senate is expected to take up identical legislation on Monday.

The court ruling does not change the Obama administration’s view of that bill, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said Friday.

“The State Department is examining the court’s decision as part of its process to evaluate whether the Keystone XL pipeline project serves the national interest,” Schultz said. “As we have made clear, we are going to let that process play out. Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill.”

The State Department is now expected to resume its analysis of whether Keystone XL is in the national interest — a review it suspended last year in light of the legal challenge in Nebraska. Other federal agencies also are expected to share their views on the question.

“This ruling does clear the way for the State Department to complete their analysis and for federal agencies to weigh in on risks to water and climate,” said the Nebraska landowners who unsuccessfully challenged the project in a joint statement. “The decision is now in Pres. Obama’s hands.”

May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said the court ruling frees Obama to “reject Keystone XL outright.”

“No matter the route, as long as the pipeline is carrying tar sands oil it is a global warming disaster and fails the president’s climate test,” Boeve said. “It’s time for President Obama to build on his veto threat and reject Keystone XL outright.”

Keystone supporters also said the ball was in Obama’s court.

“Today’s court decision wipes out President Obama’s last excuse,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “He’s had six years to approve a project that will increase U.S. energy supplies and create closer ties with our nearest ally and neighbor, and he’s refused to act.”

Representatives of the oil industry, who see the pipeline as a more affordable and efficient way to transport oil sands crude from Alberta to U.S. refineries, cheered the decision.

“President Obama has no more excuses left to delay or deny the Keystone XL pipeline,” said American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard. “More stable domestic and Canadian oil will enhance our nation’s national and economic security.”

Nebraska landowners said their legal fight against the pipeline was far from over. Because the court ruling was pegged to the standing of the challengers and did not reach the merits of the case, it opens the door to a new lawsuit filed by landowners living on the route.

SHOW MORE