LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska’s highest court lifted one of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday when it rejected another attempt to derail the project by opponents who wanted to force the developer to reapply for state approval.
The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the decision of regulators who voted in November 2017 to green-light a route through the state. The court’s decision was a victory for the $8 billion project, which has been mired in lawsuits and regulatory hearings since it was proposed in 2008.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 in favor of an “alternative route” for the project instead of developer TC Energy’s preferred pathway for the pipeline. Opponents filed a lawsuit arguing the company didn’t follow all the required procedures for the alternative route, in violation of state law.
Attorneys for the opponents argued that TC Energy’s application with the commission was only valid for its preferred route, and the company formerly known as TransCanada could only seek approval for one route at a time. Nebraska state attorneys disputed that claim, saying that the commission’s decision complied with the law and was in the public’s interest.
The high court on Friday sided with the state, saying the Public Service Commission is the agency responsible for determining which pipeline route is in the public interest, and that it did so after months of consideration.
“We find there is sufficient evidence to support the PSC’s determination that the (alternative route) is in the public interest,” Justice Jeffrey Funke wrote for the court.
If completed, the pipeline would carry oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pump station in Steele City, Nebraska. From there it would continue through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas until it reaches Gulf Coast refineries. Business groups and some unions support the project as a way to create jobs and reduce the risk of shipping oil by trains that can derail.
The pipeline faces intense resistance from environmental groups, Native American tribes and some landowners along the route who worry about its long-term impact on their groundwater and property rights. But in Nebraska, many affected landowners have accepted the project and are eager to collect payments from the company.
President Barack Obama’s administration studied the project for years before finally rejecting it in 2015 because of concerns about carbon pollution. President Donald Trump reversed that decision in March 2017. Federal approval was required because the route crosses an international border.
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