LINCOLN, Nebraska, January 9, 2015 (ENS) – TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now has a legal route through Nebraska that would take the controversial pipeline through the sensitive Sand Hills region and across the Ogallala aquifer.

The Nebraska Supreme Court Friday reversed a lower court decision that struck down the 2012 law used to approve the route across the state for the $8 billion proposed pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

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Part of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline is laid across South Dakota, 2009 (Photo by Dirty Oil Sands)

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruling addressed Thompson v. Heineman, the case in which Nebraska landowners charged that then Governor Dave Heineman acted unconstitutionally in pushing through the controversial pipeline siting law that paves the way for TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline through the state.

In a split vote, the Supreme Court overturned Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy’s decision that found the law (LB1161) unconstitutional. The law gives the governor the ability to unilaterally approve the route of the Keystone tar sands pipeline

“We conclude that the district court erred by not dismissing the action for lack of jurisdiction due to the failure of the plaintiffs … to establish standing,” the Nebraska Supreme Court said in its decision.

The three landowners who brought the lawsuit failed to convince a supermajority of the Supreme Court that they have standing to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

Last year, siding with the landowners, Stacy ruled that the 2012 state law improperly bypassed the Nebraska Public Service Commission, to which legislators in 2011 had handed authority for approving the routes for oil pipelines.

While four of the Supreme Court’s seven judges supported the landowners standing to challenge LB1161, Nebraska law requires a supermajority of five judges to strike down a measure as unconstitutional.

As of Thursday, Heineman is no longer governor of Nebraska. Pete Ricketts was sworn in as Nebraska’s 40th governor on January 8, 2015.

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Nebraska landowner Randy Thompson poses with his arrest number and citation at the entrance to the U.S. Park Police headquarters, Washington, DC. He was arrested for taking part in a civil disobedience action, ahead of the Forward on Climate rally. February 13, 2013. (Photo by Mary Anne Andrei / Bold Nebraska)

Randy Thompson, the lawsuit’s lead landowner plaintiff, said today, “This remains clear: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would threaten the land and water in America’s heartland and the health and livelihoods of the people who live there. It would be a disaster for the climate by opening up expanded development of Canada’s dirty tar sands, and it would bring no significant economic benefit to the United States. It needs to be rejected. And it’s time for President Obama to deny this misguided project.”

In view of the Nebraska court’s ruling, environmental groups are urgently pleading with President Barack Obama to veto a bill backing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline now working its way through the new Republican-controlled Congress.

The President said earlier this week that he would veto such a bill.

President Obama has said for months that he was just waiting on Nebraska’s legal process to be completed before deciding about the pipeline. A Presidential Permit is required because the pipeline would cross an international border.

The project must be shown to be in the U.S. national interest. Obama has said it would not be in the country’s national interest if the pipeline contributed to climate change.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today, “President Obama is out of excuses for deciding whether or not to allow thousands of Americans to get back to work. Today’s ruling provides the perfect opportunity for the President to change his unproductive posture on this jobs project and reverse his veto threat. Congress will soon pass a bipartisan proposal to approve this job-creating infrastructure project in order to help grow our economy and put thousands of Americans back to work. The president now has every reason to sign it.”

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, disagrees with McConnell.

The Nebraska court’s decision “…does not take away from the fact that the Keystone bill is a giveaway to Canadian oil interests and does nothing for America,” Boxer said. “I again call on the Republican leadership to take this bill off the floor and immediately bring up a transportation bill that will support millions of jobs – not just the 35 permanent jobs that the tar sands pipeline would create.”

A coalition of nine environmental groups said today, “The fact that the route through Nebraska is constitutional certainly does not make it safe. In spite of enormous controversy and resistance in Nebraska, TransCanada has chosen to route its proposed tar sands pipeline through the fragile Sand Hills and through the Ogallala aquifer, threatening agriculture and drinking water in America’s heartland.”

One of the nine groups, 350.org, whose name reflects scientists’ advice to keep the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases below 350 parts per million to avert the worst consequences of climate change, is speeding up its planned “Reject Keystone XL Now” petition delivery to the White House.

“We want to show the President that a huge number of people are counting on him to stand firm on this,” said the group’s spokesman Duncan Meisel.

“Where the Nebraska court fell short, President Obama can stand tall,” said Meisel. “He’s promised to veto legislation to approve the pipeline, and he’s talking more and more like someone who wants to reject it. Now he has a chance to show what his words are worth, and act to protect land, water and climate by rejecting Keystone XL.”

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