Keystone XL court ruling in Nebraska pleases Alberta Premier Jim Prentice

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling will help move the Keystone XL pipeline project forward, but warned the political process to approve the pipeline is still far from over.

“I think it remains to be seen how this plays out in the United States," said Prentice, speaking in Calgary. "From my perspective, the project should be approved. It will create jobs, it’s an environmentally defensible project, it’s supported by the American people.”

Prentice said he will travel to Washington, D.C., in February to support the project.

“I think my role as the premier of Alberta is to be in Washington to ensure that the facts are clear, to speak to the environmental record of Alberta as a jurisdiction."

Pipeline clears legal hurdle

Prentice's comments come after Keystone XL overcame a legal hurdle in Nebraska, clearing the way for U.S. President Barack Obama to approve or reject the controversial project.

A U.S. State Department review of Keystone XL had been put on hold while the Nebraska Supreme Court decided on a lawsuit brought by Nebraska landowners. That review process will now resume, resulting in a recommendation to the president, who has the final say on whether the pipeline can be built.

Earlier on Friday, legislation supporting Keystone XL was passed in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Obama has said he will veto any bill in favour of Keystone XL, but he could change his mind if Senate amendments align with his own priorities.

TransCanada CEO hails ruling

In a conference call with reporters, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said his company was "very pleased" with the Nebraska court ruling.

"It removes what we believe is the stated reason for the delay in the presidential approval process," he said. "Now, hopefully that process can pick up where it left off.

"We would hope that we can get on with an approval in a very short timeframe."

The project is more necessary than ever in light of falling oil prices, Girling said.

"The reduction in oil prices, I think some have suggested, makes the project less attractive and potentially less needed, but that’s exactly the opposite of what is true," said Girling.

As oil prices fall, he added, "the need for more efficient transportation is greater."

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said Canada’s government also considers the court ruling good news.

"We welcome the decision," he said. "This now clears the way for the [U.S.] State Department to complete the process."

U.S. politicians spar over pipeline

Keystone XL has long been a priority for Republicans, who say it would create jobs and contribute to U.S. energy security.

"President Obama is now out of excuses for blocking the Keystone pipeline and the thousands of American jobs it would create," said House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner in a statement today. "Finally, it’s time to start building."

The White House said the State Department still has work to do before the pipeline can be approved.

"The State Department is examining the court's decision as part of its process to evaluate whether the Keystone XL pipeline project serves the national interest," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. "As we have made clear, we are going to let that process play out."

Regardless, Schultz said Obama will veto any congressional bill in favour of the pipeline.

Nebraska Supreme Court ruling

Nebraska’s top court ruled on the constitutionality of a state law that allowed Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, to determine the route of Keystone XL.

A lower court had previously found TransCanada was a "common carrier" under state law, which would subject the pipeline to approval by Nebraska’s Public Service Commission.

Four out of seven judges on the Supreme Court found the pipeline route was determined in violation of the state constitution, but that wasn’t enough to uphold the lower court’s decision. In Nebraska, a "supermajority" of five judges is required to declare a state law unconstitutional.

"No member of this court opines that the law is constitutional," said the ruling. "But the four judges who have determined that [the pipeline law] is unconstitutional, while a majority, are not a supermajority as required under the Nebraska constitution … Accordingly, we vacate the district court's judgment."

Nebraska landowner Randy Thompson was the lead plaintiff in the lower court case and said he was "disappointed" by the ruling.

"This has been tremendously upsetting for landowners in this process and the fact that political leaders have just tried to kick our butts along with TransCanada has been tremendously disappointing," said Thompson. "It's time for the president to put an end to this damn thing, let us get back to our lives, get back to raising food for America."