LINCOLN — In a long-awaited decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the route of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline across Nebraska that was chosen by the State Public Service Commission.

The unanimous decision was a victory for TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, and a blow to groups fighting the 36-inch crude oil pipeline, which was proposed more than a decade ago.

The court, in a 59-page opinion that was nine months in the making, ruled that the Public Service Commission's selection of the so-called "mainline alternative route" was in the public interest, and that the Public Service Commission had the authority to choose such an alternative.

 David Lopez, one of the state attorneys who argued the case for the Public Service Commission, hailed the decision Friday as thorough and well reasoned.

  "This comprehensive decision not only clears a big legal hurdle for this particular pipeline, it signals that a workable process exists in Nebraska for the approval of future major energy infrastructure projects," said Lopez, who is now in private practice.

 A leading opponent of the Keystone XL, Jane Kleeb of the group Bold Nebraska, said the ruling does not clear the way for construction of the pipeline due to federal lawsuits still pending in Montana. She said that her group will urge landowners to fight TC Energy's use of eminent domain in local courts, and urge the Nebraska Legislature to change "backward" laws that allow a foreign corporation to obtain right of way in court from private landowners.

 Kleeb, who is also head of the Democratic Party in Nebraska, said Bold will also work to unseat President Donald Trump, who resurrected the Keystone XL project after he took office.

  The pipeline lawsuit was filed after the Public Service Commission in November 2017 voted 3-2 to approve the alternative route rather than a preferred route chosen by the pipeline developer. Commissioners ruled that the alternative route aligned for about 90 more miles with an existing Keystone pipeline, which fit with the commission's statutory obligation to seek routes that maximize the use of existing utility corridors when feasible and beneficial.

It forced a delay in the project as TC Energy began bargaining with a new set of landowners for right-of-way agreements.

A group of landowners, along with environmental groups and Indian tribes, sued, arguing that the commission lacked the authority to approve an alternative route because state law provides for a review of "the proposed route only," and TC Energy's application was for only its preferred route. Because of that, they argued, the process to approve a pipeline route needs to be repeated, thus again delaying the much-delayed project.   

Attorneys for the commission and TC Energy, in oral arguments before the State Supreme Court in November, disputed that, saying the application provided plenty of information about more than one route. Even some opponents of the Keystone XL, they said, had told the Public Service Commission that the alternative route was superior.

  Omaha attorney Dave Domina, who represented landowners who sued, said Friday that he believed his arguments and evidence "clearly showed TransCanada failed to meet its burden of proof and that the very laws under which the route was evaluated are unconstitutional."  

Friday's ruling is among the last hurdles facing the controversial crude oil pipeline, first proposed 11 years ago. After it was denied permission to cross the U.S. border by President Barack Obama, it was quickly resurrected by current President Trump in 2017 after he took office.

Three lawsuits filed in federal court in Montana still await a ruling. They were filed after the Trump administration, in a move to sidestep earlier lawsuits, issued a new presidential permit in March for the pipeline.

The Keystone XL would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil sands region of Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where refineries are set up to handle the heavy crude that is extracted from the oil sands. It will be buried at least four feet deep, and would be at least 25 feet below major streams.

 TC Energy has maintained that it would be the safest pipeline ever built, but landowners site leaks from the company's existing Keystone pipeline, as well as pipeline disasters in Michigan, Wyoming and Arkansas, as evidence that pipelines eventually fail.

Canadian oil producers have been seeking increased transportation routes for its oil for years in hopes of decreasing transportation costs and increasing profits. At least two existing pipelines from Canada are seeking to increase their transport capacity in response.

On the U.S. Gulf Coast, instability in Venezuela has impacted the flow of heavy crude to its refineries, a flow that could be replaced by Canadian oil.

Since the Keystone XL was first proposed in 2008, the price of crude oil has dropped from about $147 a barrel to $60 a barrel, which has hurt expansion plans in the Canadian tar sands region and raised some doubts about the economic viability of the $8 billion pipeline.

And, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil in December 2018 — for the first time in 75 years — due to the increase in fracking. Yet, the country still imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, and Canada, by far, is the biggest supplier. 

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