Keystone XL pipeline on hold after Nebraska judge grants injunction

Nebraska judge sides with landowners seeking to stop TransCanada from taking land from dozens of properties

In a temporary victory for opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, a Nebraska state judge sided with landowners seeking to stop Canadian energy firm TransCanada from taking land from dozens of properties in the northern half of the state.

Nebraska State District Court Judge Mark Kozisek issued a temporary injunction Thursday that stops condemnation cases along the proposed route, which would connect the tar-sands oil pipeline with an existing pipeline that delivers oil to Gulf of Mexico refineries.

In mid-January, TransCanada filed nearly 90 eminent domain cases against landowners on the route. Landowners sued to stop the land acquisition.

"We have always known our constitutional law arguments are very strong," said plaintiffs' attorney Dave Domina.

Kozisek's injunction comes one day after the U.S. House passed a bill, 270-152, authorizing construction of the pipeline. President Obama has said he would veto any authorization of the pipeline.

The $5.4-billion pipeline has supporters in the state who see it as a potential jobs bonanza. Environmental concerns in the state were partially allayed when TransCanada vowed to re-route the pipeline to avoid the Sandhills region, an ecologically sensitive prairie. Environmentalists nationally still object to the pipeline’s construction.

The plaintiffs are pursuing an argument that kicked off two years ago when the state's Legislature passed a bill that allowed former Gov. Dave Heineman to bypass the Nebraska Public Service Commission, whose approval was required for any such project. A state district court struck down that act as unconstitutional.

The matter went to the state Supreme Court, which ruled 4-3 that the governor couldn't bypass the Public Service Commission. But in a judicial quirk, Nebraska requires consensus among five judges, a supermajority, to strike down legislation as unconstitutional.

That left the issue to attorneys from TransCanada and the plaintiffs.

Kozisek's order means that TransCanada's eminent domain proceedings will be put on hold. A second hearing in York County, Neb., will be heard on the same arguments.

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