TransCanada, the Calgary-based company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, has backed out of a lawsuit filed by more than 100 Nebraska landowners, the company announced Tuesday.
The energy company had been trying to gain access to private land along the proposed path of the tar sands pipeline, but had been held up legally by landowners who were opposed to letting the pipeline through their land. Now, instead of trying to gain access to that land through legal means, TransCanada will apply for a permit for Keystone XL with Nebraska’s Public Service Commission.
TransCanada says the decision will bring more certainty to Keystone XL’s route through Nebraska. But it also could cause further delays for the project, as a PSC approval can take a year or longer.
Previously, TransCanada sought to avoid the PSC approval process, choosing instead to give the state’s governor final approval over the project’s application in Nebraska. The law that gave the company the ability to choose was heavily challenged in court, but ultimately upheld.
Anti-pipeline activists in Nebraska applauded the news of TransCanada’s retreat from the lawsuit.
“This is a major victory for Nebraska landowners who refused to back down in the face of bullying by a foreign oil company,” said Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, a group that’s been active in the anti-Keystone fight. “It has long been clear that TransCanada has no legal route through the state of Nebraska and no legal right to use eminent domain against landowners. Now they’ve recognized that they’ve lost in Nebraska and are desperately trying another tactic to see their risky pipeline built through our state.”
TransCanada has used eminent domain to gain access to private land to build Keystone XL in other states. But Nebraska’s hold-out landowners have made the state a battleground for land rights concerns surrounding Keystone XL. Nebraska was the only state in which landowners along Keystone XL’s route have successfully refused to let TransCanada on their land, turning down the company’s monetary offers.
Keystone XL has been embroiled in delays and debates for seven years. The 1,179-mile pipeline, which would ship tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, has once again emerged as an election issue. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came out against the project earlier this month, while Republican candidate Donald Trump has said the project would have “no impact” on the environment — despite its potential for spills and its contribution to climate change. Final approval for the project rests with President Obama.
“We are happy to continue this fight in the Nebraska PSC, but we are confident that it will never come to that,” Kleeb said in a statement. “We know President Obama understands that this pipeline is all risk and no reward for Americans. We call on him to do the right thing now and fully reject the permit once and for all.”