A Nebraska state judge struck down a law allowing the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday, declaring it unconstitutional.
The law, LB 1161, allowed Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, and pipeline owner TransCanada to sidestep regulators and use eminent domain to build on private land.
Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy sided with three landowners who challenged the law, finding that regulatory power over industrial companies such as TransCanada must remain with agencies like the Nebraska Public Service Commission, not the governor’s office.
Stacy found that the law violated the state constitution, and she issued an injunction blocking the governor’s office from “taking any action on the governor’s Jan. 22, 2013, approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline route,” which would include allowing land to be acquired through eminent domain.
The case was argued Sept. 27.
Stacy's ruling could heavily delay the pipeline project, which is projected to cost about $5.3 billion. The governor and attorney general have 30 days to appeal to the state Supreme Court, and the governor can also call a special session of the legislature to draw up a new version of the law.
“We’re talking on the order of months before you can get this before a tribunal,” says Anthony Schutz, a professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
TransCanada, in a statement, said it was "disappointed" in the decision.
"We will now analyze the judgment and decide what next steps may be taken," the company said. "TransCanada continues to believe strongly in Keystone XL and the benefits it would provide to Americans."
Attorney David Domina, who represented the three plaintiffs, says he was "not surprised by the outcome."
"We thought we had a very, very strong constitutional argument," he says. "It's a simple matter of raw legal logic: the statute didn't match the state constitution."