State Supreme Court justices have heard oral arguments in the lawsuit that claims the Unicameral violated the state constitution in passing the law to authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline route through Nebraska.
State Deputy Attorney General Katherine Spohn argued before the court Friday morning that the Unicameral acted within its rights in passing the law.
“The constitution, on its face, allows the legislature to limit the PSC’s authority and for pipeline companies, they’ve done so,” Spohn stated during her argument before the Supreme Court.
The law shifted authority to approve the pipeline route from the Public Service Commission to the governor.
Four landowners sued the state, claiming the legislature violated the constitution. A Lancaster County District judge agreed and ruled the law unconstitutional. The state appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
In response to a question posed by a justice, Spohn agreed the law affects more than just those with a commercial interest in the pipeline.
“Yes, of course, pipelines impact all sorts of people,” Spohn replied. “That’s part of why the state of Nebraska has determine it’s of good public purpose that these pipelines to be constructed within Nebraska and allow them to go down these routes.”
The lawyer arguing for the landowners, Dave Domina, agreed the state has an interest in regulating oil pipeline routes, but argued the proper place for such regulation rests in the hands of the PSC.
“The states are charged with evaluating their resources, the needs of their people, and all of those things that the Public Service Commission is directed to consider in order to make a quasi-judicial finding that’s subject to judicial review. Here, the governor doesn’t have to do any of those things,” Domina stated.
Domina further argued the PSC would make a more deliberate decision on the route.
“I think my favorite argument on cross appeal, frankly, is that the statute is standard-less when the gubernatorial route for approval is taken and you have clearly said that in order to assure that there is a valid delegation of authority, assuming for a minute that there can be a delegation, it’s standard-less in this statute,” according to Domina.
The lawsuit has implications beyond Nebraska. President Barack Obama has stated he will not move on TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit to build the northern portion of Keystone XL until the legal issues in Nebraska are resolved. The southern portion of the pipeline, from Cushing, OK to refineries along the Gulf Coast has already been built and is in operation.
The court has taken the case under advisement and will issue a rule later.
The case is Thompson v. Heineman. You can listen to the entire oral arguments through the Supreme Court website by clicking here.