Nebraska court clears pipeline route as showdown looms in Washington

Fri Jan 9, 2015 12:06pm EST
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(Recasts, adds background, political context, details from ruling)

By Aruna Viswanatha and Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON Jan 9 (Reuters) - The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday removed one of the last hurdles for President Barack Obama to settle the fate of the politically charged Keystone XL oil pipeline, delivering a closely watched decision on an issue that could help define his second term.

After months of deliberation, the court allowed a route for the pipeline to cross the state, shifting the debate over TransCanada Corp's controversial line fully to Washington, where Republicans now in control of Congress are seeking to force its final approval after more than six years of acrimony with the White House.

The ruling came hours before the U.S. House of Representatives planned to vote on legislation approving the pipeline, which would help carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

The Senate is expected to take up a Keystone bill for debate next week.

In Nebraska, the legal question narrowly focused on whether the governor had a right to bless a pipeline route, but the state supreme court has had the matter since February and the 64-page ruling reflects how contentious it has become.

The court said it could not decide whether legislation backed by former governor Dave Heineman wrongly gave him authority to grant TransCanada a pipeline route in 2012. But the court was deadlocked, which amounted to ruling in the company's favor.

"(B)ecause there are not five judges of this court voting on the constitutionality of (the legislation), the legislation must stand by default," the seven-judge panel said in its ruling.   Continued...