Landowners sue state over pipeline review


May 23rd, 2012

Omaha, NE – A group of landowners has sued the State of Nebraska over its oil pipeline review process.

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The landowners have become a familiar voice in the debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline and its proposed route through Nebraska. Randy Thompson is a rancher in the Nebraska Sandhills, and has been a leading representative of landowners opposed to the pipeline route. In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Thompson said he’s been fighting this battle for five years.

Randy Thompson has been a leading voice among landowners opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo courtesy Bold Nebraska)

“This has been five of the most frustrating years of my life,” he said. “We went through the whole gamut with TransCanada. We got the letters threatening us with eminent domain and all of that.”

“But that really hasn’t been the main source of my frustration,” Thompson said. “The main source of frustration has come from the actions of our elected officials, not only in Nebraska but also in the nation.”

Thompson said the “last straw” was the passage of LB1161, which was signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman in April. That extends the authority of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to review pipeline routes until the end of this year, instead of leaving it with the Public Service Commission.

The law was meant to provide a quicker review for Trans Canada’s planned Keystone XL pipeline, which has been delayed by protests over its initial planned route through the Nebraska Sandhills. But the group suing the state argues the law violates separation of powers.

The original Keystone pipeline route cut directly through the Nebraska Sandhills. The new route avoids the ecologically fragile area, but still crosses the Ogallala aquifer. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Omaha lawyer David Domina, who filed the lawsuit, Thompson v. Heineman, on behalf of the landowners, said it is designed to ensure the Nebraska Constitution is honored.

“It really is important that the people of Nebraska’s decision to have a Public Service Commission that will specialize in regulating common carriers be honored,” Domina said. “For example, it’s the Public Service Commission that has to set telephone rates, which means that it regulates rates for internet service providers. If the Legislature were to pass a law that said ‘No, governor you do that, pay no attention to that provision of the Nebraska Constitution.’ I would think that we could all see that would be inappropriate.”

The group has filed its suit in the district court of Lancaster County, and has also requested a review by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

TransCanada could not immediately be reached for comment. But company officials have said previously the law is consistent with promises the state made for an expedited review, in exchange for a route that avoids the Sandhills. The Department of Environmental Quality held a series of public meetings earlier this month to gather input from landowners affected by the new route.

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