Michael Whatley, executive vice president of Consumer Energy Alliance, tells Oil & Gas Journal why the Obama administration should work quickly to approve what will clearly be the safest pipeline in history – the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nebraska’s Supreme Court vacated a lower court’s decision that legislation transferring authority to determine the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline’s route across the state to the governor from the Public Service Commission was unconstitutional.

Four of the court’s seven justices backed Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie F. Stacy’s ruling that LB 1611, which gave then-Gov. Dave Heineman (R) the route approval authority in 2012, was unconstitutional (OGJ Online, Feb. 20, 2014). But the state’s constitution requires a five-vote supermajority for the court to find an enacted law unconstitutional.

“No member of this court opines that the law is constitutional,” the state’s high court said in its Jan. 9 decision. “But the four judges who have determined that LB 1161 is unconstitutional, while a majority, are not a supermajority as required under the Nebraska Constitution… Accordingly, we vacate the district court’s judgment.”

Supporters and opponents of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed 1,179-mile pipeline from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb., agreed that the Nebraska Supreme Court’s action puts pressure back on US President Barack Obama to decide whether giving Keystone XL a cross-border permit is in the US national interest.

“We welcome today’s decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court which has thrown out a lower court ruling – and the governor’s approval of our pipeline route remains valid,” TransCanada Chief Executive Russ Girling said on Jan 9. “This decision also means the approved route is valid and removes another delay in making a decision on our Keystone XL presidential permit application. Now, the federal review of our application can pick up where it left off.”

‘No more excuses’

“President Obama has no more excuses left to delay or deny the Keystone XL pipeline,” API President Jack N. Gerard said. “More stable domestic and Canadian oil will enhance our nation’s national and economic security. The project has strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a majority of Americans want to see it approved.”

“Now that the Nebraska Supreme Court has vacated the lower court’s ruling and allowed LB 1161 to stand, it’s time to move forward with the project,” Consumer Energy Alliance Executive Vice-President Michael Whatley said. “The Obama administration should work quickly to approve what will clearly be the safest pipeline in history and help bring jobs and economic opportunity to both the Cornhusker State and the nation.”

Opponents were dissatisfied with the outcome because it hinged on a legal technicality. “Today’s ruling is an affront to citizens’ land rights and democratic self-determination. It continues a trend of everyday Americans being barred access to our courts,” said Luísa Abbott Galvao, Friends of the Earth’s Climate and Energy associate.

“It does not change the fact that Keystone XL is not in our national interest.”

“This ruling clears the way for President Obama to determine whether the dirty tar sands pipeline is in the national interest,” said Danielle Droitsch, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada project director. “The ruling doesn’t make it right for Congress to act as a permitting agency, usurp presidential authority, or short-circuit the president’s obligation to decide whether the pipeline is good for the country. It’s not. It needs to be denied.”

Congress increases pressure

Meanwhile, four days into its first session, the Republican-controlled 114th Congress continued its own pressure on Obama president as the House passed Rep. Kevin Cramer’s (R-ND) bill approving Keystone XL by 266 to 153 votes.

“The election is over. There has been broad bipartisan support for this project from day one,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said following the vote. “With the Nebraska roadblock cleared, the president has no excuse left to delay this project. It’s time to build, once and for all.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alas.) bill with identical language a day earlier and sent it to the full Senate for consideration and a possible vote next week (OGJ Online, Jan. 8, 2015).

“Literally everything that has happened during the Obama administration—legislation, regulations, and extracurricular activities—happened while Keystone XL’s permit application was pending,” Murkowski said in a Jan. 9 floor speech. “At more than 2,300 days and counting, it is abundantly clear that the president is not going to make a decision—and that Congress needs to make it instead.”