Now It's Nebraska: More Problems for the Keystone Pipeline Folks

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The folks over at TransCanada just cannot seem to catch a break. The company has been working for years to get the Keystone XL Pipeline Project -- which will go from the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, moving up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil over more than 2,000 miles, including more than 1,700 miles of brand-spanking-new pipeline -- up and running, with opposition from just about every group you can imagine.

Environmentalists, landowners, endangered species -- TransCanada has tangled with a variety of groups and problems in its quest to put in the mammoth line. Now, even as it looks like there will be a federal decision on the pipeline in the near future, another problem has popped up, and it's out of Nebraska, of all places.

Already the folks at TransCanada have waded through the protests of environmentalists who don't approve of the pipeline because of bitumen, the sticky black tar sands oil that will be toted through the pipeline and is even more of a pain to clean up in the event of a spill. Then there were the Native American tribes who were understandably not thrilled with the idea of having a pipeline run through their lands and who were also pissed because they felt they weren't being treated as a sovereign nation during the Keystone talks held in May.

There were the endangered carrion beetles that had to be removed from the area around the pipeline using dead rats as carrion beetle bait. Concerns about the southern route going through the wetlands were raised, so TransCanada rerouted to dig the pipeline under the wetlands. The landowners all along the pipeline who didn't want to give up their land for a pipeline. Putting in a huge pipeline ain't easy, because for every pro-labor and energy person who's in favor, there's someone decidedly against it.

But recently it has seemed like the end is in sight for those long-suffering energy executives. A final decision from the U.S. State Department is expected in the coming weeks, and with slight indications from the president that the Keystone project isn't dead to him, and lots of lobbying from the Canadian government to try and get crucial support in Washington D.C., the Keystone becoming a reality must seem tantalizingly close.

That's where Nebraska enters the scene. Nebraska is a lot like Kansas or Iowa, one of those states we never much think about unless something awful happens there or Springsteen writes an album about it. Nebraska doesn't seem to have much but that album going for it, but TransCanada does plan to run about 200 miles of pipeline through the state. The state has to approve the pipeline, though, and that's where the monkey wrench comes in, according to the Washington Post. During the final hours of the Nebraska state legislature's session in 2012, lawmakers removed the authority to review and approve the pipeline from the state's Public Service Commission and handed it to Gov. David Heineman and the Department of Environmental Quality. The bill also gave TransCanada power of eminent domain over landowners, meaning the private company had the right to force the sale of any land it chose for easements along the pipeline route.

Three Nebraska landowners filed a lawsuit in response to the bill, arguing that Heineman has no right to approve the pipeline and that the legislature's bill giving Heineman the power to do so is unconstitutional. Despite attempts by Nebraska's attorney general to have the suit thrown out, Nebraska District Judge Stephanie Stacy has set September 27 as the trial date.

If the court rules in favor of the landowners, it won't ultimately stop the Keystone from being put in place if it gets the federal okay. It won't keep the pipeline out of Nebraska either, but it could delay the project for years since TransCanada would have to go back and go through the whole siting process again. A steady slog of appeals through the Nebraska court system could slow things down in a similar fashion.

This all means that the Keystone could finally win federal approval and be stuck fighting in Nebraska, leaving it potentially so close but still so far away, which won't leave the environmentalists too sad, but we'll bet someone at TransCanada will be tearing his hair out.

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