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Judge Cuts Down State Law Enabling Keystone XL Route Through Nebraska

[node:summary]A judge has invalidated the state law that enabled Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman to approve Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska.
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A judge has ruled that the Nebraska law that enabled the governor to approve a route for the Keystone XL pipeline violates the state constitution, causing potential delays in the project just as President Barack Obama is on the verge of making a decision.

Governor Dave Heineman approved the $7 billion, 880,000-barrel-per-day pipeline’s route through Nebraska a year ago, but the ruling by Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy invalidates the law under which he did so, the Associated Press reported on February 19. The law, passed in 2011, gave pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. powers of eminent domain, AP said.

RELATED: Nebraska Governor Approves New Keystone XL Pipeline Route

“Stacy agreed with opponents’ arguments that the law passed in 2011 improperly allowed Heineman to give Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. the power to force landowners to sell their property for the project,” the AP reported. “Stacy said the decision to give TransCanada eminent domain powers should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.”

The decision was the result of a lawsuit that three landowners in Nebraska who oppose the project filed to protest the confiscation of their property. The pipeline would bring bituminous crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico coast in the U.S., 1,700 miles away. The southern Texas leg has already been built and is operational despite numerous legal challenges. Nebraska would be host to more than 200 miles of the proposed pipeline, according to the Washington Post.

The landowner plaintiffs and their attorney called the ruling a victory for all opponents of the pipeline.

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"TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska,” said David Domina, the suing landowners’ attorney. “The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state.”

“This is an immense victory against eminent domain for every rancher, farmer, and citizen this bill would have negatively affected,” said Nebraska rancher and landowner Suz Straka, one of the plaintiffs in the case, in a statement from Bold Nebraska, a conservation group opposing the pipeline.

“[TransCanada] came out here like a bunch of bullies and tried to force it down our throats,” said another plaintiff, Randy Thompson. “They told us there was nothing we could do to stop it."

RELATED: State Department Final Environment Report Says Keystone XL Impact Minimal

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning's office said it will appeal the ruling before the state’s Supreme Court, according to NPR News.

The U.S. Department of State has issued its final environmental assessment on the section of pipeline that would cross the U.S.–Canadian border and opened a 30-day window for comments on February 5. Federal agencies have 90 days to give input, the Washington Post reported.