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Nebraska high court won't take up pipeline case

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The Nebraska Supreme Court has refused to hear a direct challenge to the state's new pipeline siting law.

The court Wednesday rejected efforts by opponents of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline who had hoped the court would use its power of original jurisdiction.

A member of the plaintiffs' legal team, Brian Jorde, said that the Supreme Court rejection "doesn't say anything about the merits of the case."

An almost identical lawsuit was filed in Lancaster County District Court, so the Nebraska legal action will be focused there.

The lawsuits were filed May 23 by three Nebraska landowners along TransCanada's proposed pipeline route. The pipeline is designed to carry oil from Canada across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. TransCanada also has proposed connecting it to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota.

In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs say the law establishing the review process is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow for judicial review and doesn't spell out what criteria should be considered when a pipeline project is being evaluated.

The lawsuit objects to a provision of the new law that puts the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in charge of reviewing the pipeline project instead of the state's Public Service Commission, which is an independently elected group that regulates utilities.

The landowners who filed the lawsuit also say they're concerned about the provisions of the law that could allow a pipeline company to use the state power of eminent domain to obtain land for a project.

The lawsuit argues that the bill is unconstitutional special legislation because it can be applied only to the Keystone XL project.

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Attorney General's Office didn't immediately return a call Thursday from The Associated Press. The office represents the state and the three officials named in the lawsuit: Gov. Dave Heineman, state Treasurer Don Stenberg and Nebraska Environmental Quality Director Michael Linder.

Environmental groups have opposed the pipeline project because of concerns that it could foul underground and surface water supplies, increase air pollution around refineries and harm wildlife.

TransCanada's original application for a federal permit to build the pipeline was rejected in January by President Barack Obama after congressional Republicans imposed a deadline for approval that didn't allow enough time to address questions about the route through Nebraska.

Since then, TransCanada has split the project into two pieces. The company hopes to quickly get approval for the southern section of the pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. And TransCanada has proposed a new route through Nebraska that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.

The state's review process for the new route is expected to be completed in late summer or fall.