May 23, 2012 / 10:05 PM / 6 years ago

Nebraska residents challenge Keystone pipeline law

OMAHA, Neb., May 23 (Reuters) - Three Nebraska landowners on Wednesday challenged a state law aimed at speeding up approval of a new route for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas around environmentally sensitive areas of the state.

The Nebraska law approved in April aims to speed the pipeline process by giving the decision on the route to the state environmental quality department, with final approval by Governor Dave Heineman.

The law “largely eviscerated” actions the legislature took in a special session last year, violating the state constitution by stripping the authority over pipeline decisions from a state public service commission, the lawsuit said.

Under the April law, the commission would only review a pipeline proposal if the governor rejects the environmental quality department decision.

Landowners Randy Thompson, Susan Luebbe and Susan Dunavan filed the lawsuit in a Nebraska district court and asked the Nebraska Supreme Court to take the case directly. It named Heineman, the state treasurer and environmental quality department director as defendants, but not TransCanada.

TransCanada declined to comment on the lawsuit between the private landowners and Nebraska, but is committed to the Keystone XL project, spokesperson Grady Semmens said.

“We continue to work collaboratively with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality on defining a new route for Keystone XL that avoids the Sandhills,” Semmens said in a statement.

The lawsuit asks the courts to overturn the law and enter a permanent injunction, but does not ask for the law to be enjoined temporarily while the case is considered.

David Domina, an attorney representing the landowners, said it could take 10 months for a decision if the state Supreme Court takes the case directly, or a year longer than that if the case is heard first in Lancaster County district court.

Thompson said he had been in discussion with TransCanada about the pipeline proposals since late 2007.

“The main source of my frustration has come from the actions of our elected officials, not only in Nebraska, but in the nation,” Thompson said Wednesday in a telephone briefing.

Earlier proposals would have routed the pipeline through the sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska and drew concerns about the safety of the Ogallala aquifer, a major source of fresh water for drinking and farmland.

President Barack Obama rejected a proposed route earlier this year, drawing criticism from Republicans and effectively delaying a decision until after the November election.

TransCanada has been negotiating a new route with Nebraska and has submitted a new application for the northern part of the pipeline to the U.S. State Department, which reviews the application because it crosses an international border.

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