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PSC approves Keystone XL alternative mainline route

In 3-2 vote, Nebraska Public Service Commission approves TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline – but not the company's "preferred route."

Today, the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved TransCanada's "alternative mainline" route through the state for its Keystone XL pipeline. It was one of the company's final regulatory roadblocks for the project, after the Trump Administration approved the project this spring.

While not the company's "preferred" route, the alternative mainline route starts in Keya Paha County and ends in Jefferson County – just like the preferred route. However, the mainline alternative route stretches out further east into parts of Madison, Stanton, Platte, Colfax, Butler, and Seward counties, while the preferred route would have cut through Boone, Nance, Polk, Merrick, York and Fillmore counties.

The commission voted 3-2 to approve the alternative mainline route, with commissioners Frank Landis, Rod Johnson and Tim Schram voting in favor, and commissioners Crystal Rhoades and Mary Ridder voting against.

The decision came over three months after the commission held public hearing in Lincoln, Neb. regarding whether or not to approve the pipeline – and over nearly a decade of debate since the pipeline was first proposed. The $8 billion 1,179-mile pipeline would carry tar sand oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

Last week, another of the company's pipelines, the Keystone Pipeline, ruptured, spilling 210,000 gallons in northeastern South Dakota. However, the Public Service Commission is forbidden by law to consider the spill in its decision, because pipeline safety falls under federal law.

Commissioner Rhoades issued a statement prior to the vote saying why she would be voting against the route's approval, noting the alternative route would impact landowners would not have been affected by the pipeline otherwise.

"The route violates the due process of landowners. There are at least 40 landowners along the approved route who may not even know their land is in this pipeline's path," Rhoades said. "They may not have participated in this proceeding and may not have had a chance to make a case before this commission."

Following Monday's hearing, Domina Law Group of Omaha, which represented Nebraska landowners whose properties fall along the proposed preferred route, issued a statement in support of the decision.

"TransCanada had the burden of proof and its proof failed. Nebraska's public interests are not served by a 36-inch tar sands pipeline crisscrossing through and under the most fragile highly erodible soils of our State, the Ogallala Aquifer, and cutting across five major rivers on the route proposed," trial lawyer Dave Domina said in the statement. "We have said for years that TransCanada’s proposed preferred route was not an intelligent one and the PSC agreed. We will carefully evaluate the order and meet with our clients."

However, don't expect TransCanada to start moving dirt anytime soon. The company has not yet announced its final decision on whether or not to invest in the project, although the company released a statement earlier this year that it will make its decision by December.

In the meantime, it's expected that pipeline opponents will appeal PSC's decision in the Third District Court in Lancaster County, and the appeal will likely go to the Nebraska Supreme Court. While an appeal to the PSC order must take place within 30 days, the appeals process could take up to two years.

For more information, see related articles:

6 things to know about the Keystone XL pipeline. http://www.nebraskafarmer.com/energy/6-things-know-about-keystone-xl-pipeline

Nebraska approves alternate route for Keystone XL pipeline. http://www.farmfutures.com/business/nebraska-approves-alternate-route-keystone-xl-pipeline

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