But in Monday's order, Stacy said the issues were neither hypothetical nor contingent on future decisions by DEQ or the governor, so they were legitimate issues to be adjudicated in court. Stacy also said public money time already was being spent by DEQ in implementing the legislation, LB1161.
A spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said his office is reviewing the judge's ruling.
Environmentalists and other opponents have said the $7 billion project could contaminate groundwater reserves and threaten ecologically sensitive areas in Nebraska and other states along its 1,700-mile path. TransCanada has altered the pipeline's path through Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region and a couple towns' water wells.
Those favoring the Keystone XL project, including such organizations as Americans for Prosperity, the Consumer Energy Alliance and Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, have cited the nation's need for more oil and praised its potential economic impact.
TransCanada first proposed the project in 2008. President Barack Obama in January rejected TransCanada's original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline. Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces.
The company began construction in August on the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. The southern section of the pipeline didn't need presidential approval because it won't cross an international border.
After Nebraska officials finish their process, the U.S. State Department will review the project again before Obama has the final say.