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State News

January 1, 2013

Judge won't block suit against Neb. pipeline law

LINCOLN, Neb. — A Lancaster County district judge has refused to block a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Nebraska's new pipeline siting law.

Judge Stephanie Stacy on Monday denied a state request to dismiss the lawsuit that was filed in May by three people who own land along the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

In the lawsuit, the three — Randy Thompson, of Martell; Susan Dunavan, of McCool Junction; and Susan Luebbe, of Stuart —say the law that established the review process is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow for judicial review and doesn't spell out what criteria should be considered when a pipeline project is being evaluated.

They also object to a provision of the new law that puts the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and Gov. Dave Heineman in charge of reviewing the pipeline project instead of the state's Public Service Commission, which is an independently elected group that regulates utilities.

The plaintiffs say they are concerned that a pipeline company could use the state power of eminent domain to obtain land for a project. And the lawsuit argues that the bill is unconstitutional special legislation because it can be applied only to the Keystone XL project.

TransCanada's pipeline is designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The company also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.

At a September hearing on the lawsuit, Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Katie Spohn said the landowners could not claim taxpayer rights in the dispute because no tax money is being spent. The Legislature required TransCanada to reimburse the state for the cost of the pipeline review.

"Since there is no cost and no expenditure of public funds," Spohn said, "there are no tax dollars to protect."

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