Nebraska's Supreme Court To Hear Keystone XL Pipeline Case

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The White House delayed a decision on the pipeline until a Nebraska route is approved. The state's high court hears arguments on Friday over whether the governor had authority to approve the route.


A battle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline and what route it should take through the state of Nebraska heads to that state's Supreme Court today. The controversial pipeline would transport crude mined from Alberta's oil sands south to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Because the pipeline crosses the border with Canada, it requires White House approval. But the Obama administration has put off a final decision until after this Nebraska case is decided. Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Environmentalists oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because producing crude from oil sands emits more pollution than traditional methods. Backers say it would create jobs and help the economy. In Nebraska, the court battle over the pipeline is about where it will be located. An early route through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region was widely criticized. But after the pipeline company TransCanada changed the route, Republican Governor Dave Heineman approved it. An attorney representing three land owners opposed to the pipeline also happens to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator in Nebraska. Dave Domina will take a break from campaigning to argue before the state Supreme Court that the governor did not have the authority to approve the new route.

DAVE DOMINA: Only the Public Service Commission can handle the administrative process that goes with a specific route and its acceptance or rejection.

BRADY: Nebraska's Public Service Commission was created more than a century ago to curb the political influence of railroad barons. Later, its work was extended to regulating pipelines. But this is an unusual case involving a big pipeline. And some Keystone XL supporters wanted to give the job of approving it to the governor. In 2012, the state legislature passed a bill that did that, and much of this Supreme Court case is over whether it was constitutional. Republican State Senator Jim Smith sponsored Legislative Bill 1161.

SENATOR JIM SMITH: I will tell you that of the 43 colleagues that joined me in supporting 1161, several of them are very fine attorneys. And we would not have voted on it had we believed that it was unconstitutional.

BRADY: It could take three months or more for the Nebraska Supreme Court to decide this case. Depending on how justices rule, a final White House decision on the Keystone XL pipeline could be delayed until next year at the earliest. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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