After Legal Setback In Nebraska, What’s Next For Keystone XL?

President Barack Obama arriving at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla. TransCanada is the company vying for approval of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PABLO MARTINEZ
President Barack Obama arriving at the TransCanada Stillwater Pipe Yard in Cushing, Okla. TransCanada is the company vying for approval of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/PABLO MARTINEZ

Last week, a District Court ruling put a kink in the approval process of the Keystone XL pipeline, declaring a Nebraska law that allowed TransCanada to gain pipeline approval through the Department of Environmental Quality and Governor’s office null and void. But Keystone XL’s future in Nebraska — and in the U.S. in general — is definitely not settled yet.

Last week’s ruling moves the pipeline’s approval in Nebraska to the state’s Public Service Commission, an agency which, as Bloomberg News reports, has been criticized for accepting campaign donations from companies that were under the agency’s regulatory purview. The commission has regulated natural gas pipelines in the past, but has never been responsible for deciding on an oil pipeline’s application.

Still, Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska, has said that the switch to the PSC as the responsible agency for Keystone XL’s review could be a positive one. The PSC’s approval process is stricter than the Department of Environmental Quality’s, the agency formerly tasked with looking at the pipeline application. According to, Keystone XL opponents “helped shape” the rules that the PSC will use to review the pipeline. As it stands, the route of Keystone XL through Nebraska crosses over an important aquifer, and Kleeb said a new review of the application could allow for more public comment on that route.

“The PSC process is actually very good,” Kleeb told

But Nebraska’s attorney general is appealing the ruling, so there is a chance that the ruling could be overturned. So far, the PSC hasn’t received an application from TransCanada, and the commission hasn’t said whether or not it will carry on with the approval process if it receives an application while the ruling is being appealed.


And though Keystone XL activists, including Kleeb, initially said the ruling and appeal could delay the pipeline’s decision, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin (R) said Monday that President Obama told governors in a closed-door meeting that a decision on Keystone XL would be coming in the next few months.

If what the Fallin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) says is true, it could mean good news for opponents of the pipeline, says Kleeb. She told ThinkProgress in an email that Obama couldn’t approve Keystone XL without a Nebraska route in place — and according to lawyer Dave Domina, last week’s ruling meant that TransCanada had “no approved route” in the state.

“Since we have no route in Nebraska, we take his word of a decision coming within months as a very good sign,” Kleeb said in the email.

Nebraska landowner Randy Thompson, one of the landowners involved in the suit that was ruled on last week, said in a statement that the news of Obama’s speedy decision was encouraging.

“It would be inconceivable for President Obama to approve the pipeline without a valid and approved route through Nebraska,” Thompson’s statement reads. “Meanwhile, we know that he currently has more than enough information to conclude that Keystone XL is not in the national interest, and that the tar sands pipeline fails the President’s own climate test.”


White House Spokesman Jay Carney hasn’t confirmed the governors’ claims and said Monday that he couldn’t speculate whether the Nebraska ruling would affect the timeline for the pipeline decision. Before the ruling and the news from the governors’ meeting, the president was expected to make the decision in late spring or early summer of this year.

On February 5, the State Department opened up the Keystone XL project to a 30-day public comment period that ends March 7. The period invites “members of the public to comment on any factor they deem relevant to the national interest determination that will be made for the Presidential Permit application.”