Nebraska’s Supreme Court could help settle the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline when it decides whether state lawmakers were right to clear the way for the project to help carry oil from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The ruling by the seven-judge panel could either clear a bureaucratic hurdle or send the TransCanada Corp plan into a logistical tailspin after more than five years of delays.
The timing of the decision is unclear, but the court has said it will be issued on a Friday morning. Many analysts expect word to come before state lawmakers convene for their next session in the first full week of January.
Following are some possible legal outcomes.
A RULING AGAINST KEYSTONE
- The state Supreme Court could endorse a lower court’s finding that Republican Governor Dave Heineman wrongly cleared the way for a pipeline route with a special legislative session in 2012. The district court judge said that pipeline review work was typically left to the state’s Public Services Commission (PSC).
- If the state’s top court were to endorse the lower court judge’s ruling, TransCanada might have to begin a new bureaucratic process with the PSC lasting at least seven months or maybe more.
- If the PSC were to alter the pipeline route, the U.S. State Department most likely would undertake a further review of environmental impacts, adding more months to the process.
A RULING IN KEYSTONE’S FAVOR
- The state Supreme Court could overturn the lower court decision. In doing so, the court could decide that Heineman had the power to approve a Keystone XL route, which would remove one of the last meaningful hurdles to the project.
- If Nebraska were to bless a pipeline route, the State Department could finish its study. President Barack Obama has said he will have the final word on the project. An end to the Nebraska dispute could clear the way for a White House decision.
OTHER POSSIBLE RULINGS
- The court could broadly endorse Heineman’s authority to support a pipeline route but challenge the 2012 legislative moves on technical grounds and ask state legislators to take up the issue again, which would likely advance the pipeline, though slowly.
- The Nebraska PSC typically regulates “common carrier” projects like pipelines, but the court could decide that Keystone is an exception, clouding the rules to right of way across private property. The implications of such a move are unclear.
- Heineman has argued that Keystone opponents do not have standing to challenge the project since it is not yet clear how landowners could be affected. If the judges agree, the dispute could live on in a fresh challenge.