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New hearing ordered over lawyer fees in Keystone XL case

April 10, 2020 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Supreme Court ordered a new hearing Friday in a dispute over who should pay the lawyer who represented landowners against the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline when the company was trying to gain access to their land.

The landowners along the old proposed route have argued that TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, should pay their attorneys’ legal fees.

Company officials had tried to invoke eminent domain so they could run the pipeline through the property of 40 Nebraska landowners who objected to the project on their land.

Those cases were still pending when the state Supreme Court issued a separate ruling that threw into question whether the company’s planned route through Nebraska was constitutional. In response, TC Energy dropped its eminent domain cases and chose to reapply for a new route, but landowners argued that the company should have to pay the costs of the lawyer who agreed to represent them.

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An Antelope County judge initially ruled in favor of the landowners and ordered TC Energy to pay their legal fees, but the company appealed. A district court judge who heard the case reversed the decision and sent the case back to the county court for another hearing.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court ruled in a similar case that TC Energy didn’t have to pay the legal fees of landowners in two other counties.

Based on that ruling, the Antelope County judge concluded that a new hearing wasn’t necessary. The landowners appealed that decision to the district court, which again ordered the county court to hold a hearing. TC Energy responded by appealing to the Nebraska Supreme Court to resolve the dispute.

“By concluding that the ordered ‘rehearing’ was pointless ... the county court deviated from the district court’s mandates, which it lacked the authority to do,” Justice John Freudenberg wrote in the opinion.

The 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude oil daily from western Canada to U.S. refineries.

It was rejected under the Obama administration over climate change worries and other environmental concerns, but was revived after President Donald Trump took office.

If completed, the pipeline would carry oil from Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect to an existing pump station in Steele City, Nebraska. From there it would continue through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas until it reaches Gulf Coast refineries.