Keystone XL pipeline foes will continue lawsuits regardless of federal action on the project

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Nebraska opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline vowed Wednesday to overturn a state law that let former Gov. Dave Heineman approve the route, regardless of what happens at the federal level.

Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska said landowners will continue their lawsuits challenging the state's 2012 pipeline-siting law.

The law allowed pipeline builder TransCanada to bypass Nebraska's Public Service Commission, which oversees most pipelines, and seek approval instead through an agency overseen by the governor. Heineman, a Republican, supported the project.

Some Nebraska landowners and environmental groups are urging President Barack Obama to reject a presidential permit for the oil pipeline.

"The president does not have to wait to reject the pipeline because of what's happening in Nebraska," Kleeb said at a news conference at the Capitol. "The uncertainty around the route is still there."

Opponents also are trying to build support for a bill in the Legislature that would overturn the pipeline siting law, said Ken Winston, a lobbyist for the Nebraska chapter of the Sierra Club.

Kleeb and other groups that have been in contact with the White House say a decision could come in early March.

Last week, TransCanada temporarily suspended its efforts to gain access to Nebraska land along the planned route.

The decision came after a Holt County district judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked TransCanada from invoking eminent domain along the proposed Keystone XL route in northern Nebraska. TransCanada agreed to the order, hoping to get an accelerated trial schedule so it can quickly resolve the legal disputes surrounding the 1,179-mile project.

Last month, TransCanada filed legal papers in nine Nebraska counties to invoke eminent domain for the land that's needed to construct, operate and maintain the pipeline. The pipeline would run from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Nebraska landowners filed their lawsuits last month after the state Supreme Court allowed the law to stand by default. Four judges on the seven-member court said the landowners should have won the case, but a supermajority of five was needed because the lawsuit raised a constitutional question.

TransCanada said in a statement that 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along the Keystone XL route — and 100 percent of those in Montana and South Dakota — have agreed to easements to build the pipeline. It also said its offers "are generous, and that all landowners are treated fairly and respectfully."

The pipeline, first proposed in 2008, still requires presidential approval because it crosses an international border. On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Congress cleared a bill to construct the pipeline, setting up a confrontation with President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto the measure.

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