Nebraska Supreme Court agrees to speed up oral arguments in Keystone XL pipeline case

Nebraska Supreme Court agrees to speed up oral arguments in Keystone XL pipeline case
In this Nov. 3, 2015, photo, the Keystone Steele City pumping station, into which the planned Keystone XL pipeline is to connect, is seen in Steele City, Nebraska. (World-Herald News Service)

LINCOLN — Citing a looming 2019 deadline, the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline has requested, and been granted, expedited arguments in a legal effort to block the $4 billion project.

The ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court on Tuesday most likely means that oral arguments, barring new motions or scheduling conflicts among attorneys, will be heard in October in the case pitting landowners, Native American tribes and environmental groups against pipeline developer TransCanada.

The landowners are seeking to nullify the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s 3-2 approval in November of a pipeline route across Nebraska. The lawsuit claims, among other things, that TransCanada didn’t formally seek approval of the “mainline alternative” route that was approved.

The selection of an alternative route meant that the company needed to negotiate right-of-way agreements with an unexpected, new group of landowners in northeast and eastern Nebraska.

In the motion requesting an expedited hearing, attorney Jim Powers of Omaha, who represents TransCanada, said a “segment” of property owners are unwilling to negotiate until the lawsuit before the State Supreme Court is resolved. A ruling is expected by the end of the year.

TransCanada faces a deadline of November 2019 to either work out a deal with a landowner or go to court to obtain right of way via eminent domain.

The 36-inch pipeline will carry thick tar sands crude oil from Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The project was virtually dead until being revived by President Donald Trump when he took office in 2017.

TransCanada has yet to decide if the project is financially feasible, though it has said it has commitments to pump 500,000 barrels of oil a day through the pipeline. That still is short of the pipeline’s capacity of 830,000 barrels.

Brian Jorde, an Omaha attorney who represents landowners affected by Keystone XL, had argued that TransCanada’s “corporate desires” weren’t enough to warrant expedited arguments. He said the Keystone XL faces several hurdles besides the lawsuit in Nebraska, including a pending federal lawsuit in Montana.

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