The fate of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline still hangs in the balance, but a lesser known aspect of the debate now faces a court challenge in Nebraska. Three property owners in the state maintain that their elected representatives gave Governor Dave Heineman the authority to take away their land for the pipeline project.
The Nebraska State Legislature reportedly transferred ownership of the land to Governor Heineman and then through him to Keystone Pipeline XL Calgary-based builder TransCanada Corporation. The eminent domain confiscation of land violated the Nebraska State Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the lawsuit filed by the land owners.
David Domina, an attorney for the Nebraska property owners in the eminent domain case, had this to say about the Keystone XL Pipeline land acquisition:
“The legislature is not empowered to delegate power to a private company at the expense of its residents.”
The Nebraska eminent domain lawsuit is not the only court filing related to the Keystone Pipeline. Similar lawsuits have been filed by Texas landowners. A multitude of opponents to the pipeline converged on the Lancaster County Courthouse in the city of Lincoln for the eminent domain hearing. The court session lasted approximately 35 minutes. The judge told the parties involved and the packed room of spectators that she would be issuing a written ruling about the violation of state constitution claims, but did not designate a time frame for doing so.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning argued that decisions about where the pipeline would run do not violate the state separation of powers principle. State attorneys also questioned whether or not TransCanada qualifies as a “common carrier” and instead referred to the company that acquired the land as a “pipeline carrier.”
Bruning has this to say about the eminent domain challenge in court documents:
“Prior to 2011, pipeline carriers were automatically provided with eminent domain authority to construct pipelines in, across and through Nebraska.”
TransCanada representative Grady Semmens does not feel that the Nebraska eminent domain lawsuit will “impact the timing of a decision on Keystone XL.” If built as currently designed, the pipeline will connect Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. Since the pipeline crosses the national border between the United States and Canada, the entire project is subject to US State Department review. Both Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have been pushing for approval of the $5.3 billion project. President Barack Obama stated during a recent speech that the Keystone Pipeline would “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution.