A TransCanada pipeline under construction.
The Keystone XL pipeline that both the Senate and House have voted in the past two weeks to approve just ran into another possible hang-up. Joe Duggan
Holt County District Judge Mark Kozisek granted a temporary injunction Thursday to landowners who challenged the ability of TransCanada to use eminent domain to acquire land for the controversial pipeline.
The judge made the ruling after landowners filed new lawsuits challenging the state’s pipeline routing law, which was narrowly upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court in a decision last month.
A spokesman for TransCanada said Thursday the company agreed to the injunction in exchange for an accelerated trial schedule. Although the judge’s order affects just the landowners along the northern part of the pipeline route, the company will offer to stall land condemnation for the roughly 90 property owners along the route who have refused to sign easement contracts.
Last month, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled against a lower court decision in a case that had found the authority for approving the pipeline's route had been unconstitutionally taken from the state's Public Service Commission and given to the governor instead. The high court's justices voted 4-3 that the change in authority was unconstitutional, but the state requires a supermajority of at least five justices to overturn a law. The decision left the door open to the additional litigation that Judge Kozisek issued his injunction on Thursday.
The Obama administration is nearing the end of a process to determine whether Keystone XL is in the "national interest." This process for approving international pipelines has been handled since 1968 by the U.S. State Department and has been a prerogative of the executive branch since Ulysses S. Grant was president. Since the Nebraska Supreme Court's decision five weeks ago, expectations have been that a presidential decision on the pipeline will be announced soon, possibly later this month, but more likely in early March. The latest ruling in Nebraska could delay that decision just as the original land-owners' lawsuit did.
Republicans and a couple of handfuls of mostly conservative Democrats have sought to circumvent the decision process by turning over approval authority for Keystone XL—but, tellingly, not other cross-boundary pipelines—from the president to Congress. The House voted 270-152 on Wednesday on the latest round in this ongoing effort. Two weeks ago the Senate approved the same bill by a vote of 62-36. Advisers to President Obama have said they will recommend the bill be vetoed.