Keystone XL Supporters Score Victory in Nebraska Court Decision

Ruling clears the way for Obama to approve or reject the controversial oil sands project.

Keystone Pipeline (National Journal)

In a victory for supporters of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down a lower court challenge to the project Friday.

That determination paves the way for President Obama to approve or reject the pipeline, which has become a hot-button issue at the center of a nationwide debate over U.S. energy security and climate change.

In the decision handed down Friday morning, the court overturned an earlier District Court ruling finding that Gov. Dave Heineman's decision to approve the pipeline route violated the state constitution.

Pipeline supporters cheered the news on Friday and called on Obama for swift approval of the pipeline. "President Obama has no more excuses left to delay or deny the Keystone XL pipeline," Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said. Project backers contend that the construction of Keystone XL would create jobs and bolster the economy.

Environmentalists, however, argue that the pipeline would accelerate global warming and speed oil sands extraction in Canada. Green groups and pipeline opponents say that despite the court decision the pipeline's route through Nebraska poses environmental risks, and they called on the president to reject the project after the court decision. "We are confident the president will stand with farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities and reject Keystone XL once and for all," Jane Kleeb, the director of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska said.

The House is set to vote on a bill to greenlight the project Friday afternoon, while an identical measure is currently advancing through the Senate and is expected to see a vote in the coming weeks. The pro-Keystone legislation is likely to pass Congress.

The White House has said Obama plans to veto the bill, and it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to override a presidential veto.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday that the president plans to let the State Department review process "play out," and there are no changes to Obama's stance on vetoing the bill.

"Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill," Schultz said in a statement.

The State Department paused its ongoing review of the project in April amid legal uncertainty created by the Nebraska court challenge.

Obama has sounded skeptical of the project in recent weeks. At an end-of-the-year press conference last month, the president downplayed the pipeline's potential to create jobs and warned that it could add to the problem of climate change.

"Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will probably create a couple thousand jobs. "¦ But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country ... we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that's the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying American construction jobs," Obama said.

Obama has said he will not approve Keystone XL if it significantly adds to the amount of air pollution from carbon emissions. A State Department-sanctioned assessment concluded that the project would have only a minimal impact on the environment. But the president does not seem convinced.

"I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it's not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people," the president said during his December press conference.

Keystone XL has been under review for more than six years and subject to a variety of delays.

In the meantime, supporters and opponents plan to continue to marshal support for their respective sides. The majority of Americans support Keystone, but recent polling shows that support is slipping: 59 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in November said they back the pipeline, down from 66 percent in March 2013.

This story is breaking and has been updated.