Nebraska opponents of Keystone XL reignite legal fight

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 8:19 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in Nebraska reignited a legal fight Friday that could delay the entire 1,179-mile project, filing two new lawsuits over its proposed route.

The lawsuits came from seven landowners in Holt and York counties who have received written warning that pipeline developer TransCanada plans to file eminent domain papers before Jan. 22 to gain access to their land.

The landowners' attorney, Dave Domina, said that gives the plaintiffs clear legal standing to challenge the project. That issue is key because the Nebraska Supreme Court tossed an earlier, similar lawsuit, with three judges saying the plaintiffs in the case didn't have such standing.

The lawsuits seek a court order to strike down a 2012 Nebraska law that allowed the project to move forward, and to prevent TransCanada from using eminent domain. Domina said the new lawsuit will likely take less time to resolve than the original claim, which wound its way through the courts in 16 months.

A spokesman for Calgary-based TransCanada has said the company expected additional legal challenges. Spokesman Shawn Howard said the company will continue to discuss deals with landowners who are negotiating in good faith. When warning letters were sent in December, the company said it had voluntary agreements from 84 percent of landowners along the route.

Jane Kleeb, the leader of the pipeline opposition group Bold Nebraska, said the lawsuits will allow landowners to bring the case back to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Kleeb called on President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada's application for a presidential permit, and said landowners will continue to fight regardless.

"It is only the president that can provide peace of mind to farmers and ranchers along the route," Kleeb said.

When the Nebraska court threw out the original lawsuit last week, four of its judges sided with the landowners. Three declined to say whether the lawsuit was unconstitutional, arguing that the landowners lacked legal standing. The landowners needed a five-judge supermajority for their lawsuit to succeed because they were seeking to have a 2012 pipeline-siting law declared unconstitutional, which would have invalidated the route through Nebraska.

The Nebraska law allowed former Gov. Dave Heineman to approve the project's route. Heineman, a Republican, supported the project. Opponents say the decision should have been made by a small state commission that regulates grain bins and taxi cabs.

The $8 billion pipeline would carry oil from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Environmentalists and other opponents argue that any leaks could contaminate water supplies and that the project would increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. Supporters, including many Republicans and oil industry members, say that those fears are exaggerated, that the pipeline would create jobs and that it would ease American dependence on oil from the Middle East.