Nebraska ruling mires Keystone XL pipeline in legal limbo

Published: February 20, 2014

— The Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska faces months of legal delays as an obscure state commission now tasked with reviewing the project said Thursday it won’t budge until the state courts decide whether the path approved by Gov. Dave Heineman is invalid.

A spokesman for the Calgary-based company building the crude oil pipeline says this week’s ruling by a Nebraska judge “is a solvable problem.” And while he didn’t believe the ongoing federal review process would be affected, the delays could push back President Barack Obama’s decision on the entire Canada-to-Texas route until after November’s midterm elections.

Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Wednesday that the state’s five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission should have decided the route. Because of a 2012 law, TransCanada had the choice of receiving final approval from the commission or from Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. The dual pathways effectively took away the commission’s power, Stacy said.

Commissioners said Thursday they’re waiting to see what happens next.

“We have intentionally stayed away from any meetings and any discussion related to the Keystone XL, for the purpose of staying impartial. Frankly, with this ruling, we’re just waiting to see what the attorneys have to say,” said Commissioner Gerald L. Vap, a Republican who represents western Nebraska.

Attorney General Jon Bruning filed notice Wednesday that he’ll take the case to the Nebraska Court of Appeals — a process that could add months of uncertainty to the project. The case is expected to end up in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which generally issues opinions 6 to 8 weeks after hearing a case.