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District Court Declares Nebraska Pipeline Law Unconstitutional

Lancaster County District Court Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled today that The Nebraska Legislature's L.B. 1161, the 2012 bill that allowed TransCanada to proceed with construction of its Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline through Nebraska, is unconstitutional and therefore void.

Today's ruling came after three Nebraska landowners, represented by Domina Law Group, challenged the constitutionality of L.B. 1161 – the bill that gave Governor Dave Heineman the authority to approve of the pipeline and therefore the power of eminent domain as well.

Today's decision not only makes L.B. 1161 unconstitutional and void, but also includes an injunction which prevents Gov. Heineman as well as the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality from taking any further actions to authorize or advance the KXL in Nebraska.

Under the Nebraska Constitution, the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) has exclusive authority to regulate any pipeline or pipeline company attempting to build in or through the state of Nebraska. L.B. 1161 essentially took that power away from the PSC and put it in the hands of Gov. Heineman.

Judge Stacy's ruling today sides with the Nebraska landowners and agrees that exclusive pipeline regulatory authority cannot and should not have been given to the Governor.

This decision also overturns Gov. Heineman's notification to President Barack Obama, which essentially communicated that legal procedures concerning the pipeline in the state of Nebraska had been met.

Dave Domina, the lawyer who represented the three landowners, had this to say about the decision: "Under the Court's ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska. TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at standstill in this State."

The decision in large part hinged on KXL's status and whether or not it should be considered a "common carrier." The PSC holds the power to regulate common carriers.

According to Mr. Domina, this case was about landowner rights under the Nebraska Constitution, not the merits of the KXL in particular.

""This is not a commentary on the pipeline project. That subject belongs to the President of the United States exclusively. This ruling means that, in Nebraska, the Governor's office has no role to play, and all state law decisions must be made by the Public Service Commission."

For more on this story, read the press release.

Read the story as it appeared on NPR.

You can also view a copy of the court's opinion here.

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