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Nebraska Judge Nixes Keystone Pipeline Approval

As pressure mounts on the Obama administration to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a Nebraska judge has struck down a law that would have allowed the project to proceed in that state.

The Nebraska Legislature approved a bill in 2012 that shifted building authorization power away from the state’s elected Public Service Commission and toward Republican Gov. Dave Heineman.

After that legislation passed, Heineman gave eminent domain powers to pipeline builders TransCanada. Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy says the governor didn’t have the power to approve the route under the state’s constitution.

“This stalls the project for sure,” said Dave Domina, the lawyer representing three Nebraska landowners where parts of the pipeline would run. “It’s not authorized in Nebraska. There’s no power of eminent domain that can be exercised here. It’s back to the drawing board.”

On Wednesday evening, Heineman announced the state attorney general’s office would be appealing the ruling to the Nebraska Court of Appeals. Based on the judge’s ruling, the state could also:

  • Have the legislature approve the project itself, convening a special session, if necessary, to move the measure along.
  • Watch the process play-out through the Public Service Commission, as it would have before the 2012 vote shifting powering to Heineman.

In a statement, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said: “We are disappointed and disagree with the decision. We will now analyze the judgment and decide what next steps may be taken.”

The Nebraska attorney general’s office has not responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.

Domina told NBC News the state legislature did not originally give itself the authority because the legislature has not taken up such a measure in the state’s history.

“The reason they didn’t keep it themselves is it would take a statute that would fully occupy the field, would be very long, very extensive, very regulatory,” Domina said. “It’s not what our Legislature has historically done. And it’s not what any good Legislature would probably do.”