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US state court tosses suit over Keystone pipeline route

January 9, 2015

LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) — The high court in the state of Nebraska tossed a lawsuit Friday challenging a proposed route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline to Canada, removing a major roadblock for the $8 billion cross-continental project that is backed by Republicans who now control all of Congress.

Congress is moving ahead on approving the project, with the House of Representatives scheduled to vote on Friday. The Senate is expected to finish the bill by the end of the month, setting up a showdown with President Barack Obama, who has threatened a veto.

Environmentalists and other opponents argue that any leaks could contaminate water supplies, and that the project would increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife. But the Republicans, oil industry and other backers say those fears are exaggerated, and that the pipeline would create jobs and ease American dependence on oil from the Middle East. They note a U.S. State Department report raised no major environmental objections.

In a split-decision, the Nebraska court ruled that the three landowners who sued the state failed to show they had legal standing to bring their case. Four judges on the seven-judge court agreed that they did have legal standing, but because the case raised a constitutional question, a super-majority of five judges was needed.

The lawsuit challenged a 2012 state law that allowed the governor to empower Calgary-based TransCanada to force eastern Nebraska landowners to sell their property for the project. A lower court had sided with the landowners, who said that power resided with the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities.

The proposed 1,179-mile (1,900-kilometer) pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The pipeline needs presidential approval because it would cross the U.S.-Canada border.

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