LINCOLN — A judge has declared unconstitutional a Nebraska law used to reroute the Keystone XL pipeline.

Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Wednesday that the 2012 law improperly gave the governor authority to approve the pipeline route, said David Domina, an Omaha attorney who represented plaintiffs in the case.

He said the ruling doesn’t necessarily reset the clock on federal approval of the pipeline. President Barack Obama only has to decide whether to grant a permit to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S. border, Domina said.

The judge said regulatory control over pipeline companies rests with the Nebraska Public Service Commission. She granted a permanent injunction to prevent Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality from taking further action to advance the pipeline.

The ruling would appear to mean TransCanada, the company seeking to build the crude oil pipeline, will have to seek state approval again for its route.

“Under the court’s ruling, TransCanada has no approved route in Nebraska,” Domina said in a news release. “TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state.”

The Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels of heavy oil sands crude daily from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The U.S. State Department recently completed an environmental analysis of the project that said it did not represent a major threat to underground water or the climate.

Environmental groups that oppose the pipeline disagree with many of the report’s conclusions. In particular, they say the project threatens both groundwater and surface water and will contribute significant greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is now awaiting review by other federal agencies before Obama decides whether to approve it.

Stay with Omaha.com for more on this developing story.

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.