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Nebraska Keystone XL Ruling Unlikely To Doom Pipeline Project Permanently, Says Top Lawyer

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Attorney Dave Domina is running as a Democrat for Nebraska's open U.S. Senate seat.
Attorney Dave Domina is running as a Democrat for Nebraska's open U.S. Senate seat.

WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, the race for Nebraska's U.S. Senate seat wasn't Democratic candidate Dave Domina's top concern. That's because a judge had just struck down the law that allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to cut through the state, and Domina was the attorney who won the case.

Domina represented three landowners trying to block the route approved by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) for the project. The law would have allowed TransCanada Corp., the company building the pipeline, to seize property from individuals who refused to give up their land.

The judge ruled that the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, and not the governor, should have made the decision whether TransCanada had such eminent domain powers.

"TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property against Nebraska landowners. The pipeline project is at a standstill in this state," Domina said on the day of the decision.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) said the state plans to appeal the ruling, which the Associated Press noted, "could add months of uncertainty to the project."

The $7 billion pipeline would connect the oil sands in western Canada to refineries in Texas. The Obama administration has delayed making a decision on whether to allow the project to go forward and faces pressure from environmental groups to block it.

Domina has said he personally opposes the pipeline and would like to see Secretary of State John Kerry block it.

In an interview Thursday, Domina was extremely critical of TransCanada, saying that as he travels the state, he finds that Nebraskans who are in favor of the pipeline, are still leery of the project in this company's hands.

"The pro-pipeline people are anti-TransCanada-conduct people," he said. "I haven't found anyone who's taken time to understand how this company has treated Nebraska farmers and ranchers who approves. Not one soul. Apparently, the governor never conducted that inquiry."

"My own position: We need to have pipelines," he added. "There's no question we need to have pipelines -- but only properly placed and properly operated by qualified responsible operators. I feel the same way about telephone service. We need telephone operators to put their lines and their infrastructure in proper places. We permit proper applicants who have a sense of responsibility of their privilege of being a common carrier. If they can't perform that, you jerk their license and they're out of business."

Still, Domina said he doubted that the court's ruling would stop the pipeline altogether, since a new route through Nebraska likely would be chosen.

Domina joins a handful of Republicans and one independent who are vying for the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who is retiring. Candidate Larry Marvin is also running on the Democratic side, although the Lincoln Journal Star noted that "he is not likely to have the campaign resources that would allow him to compete."

Despite his high-profile role opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, Domina said he has not spoken with billionaire Tom Steyer, who is a vocal opponent of the pipeline and intends to spend millions of his own money to make climate change an issue in the 2014 elections.

"I don't know this gentleman. I know who he is by his name, I know that he's interested in environmental issues, but I don't know enough about him to have any other reaction," said Domina.

When asked how much the environmental concerns about the pipeline play into his opposition to the project, Domina replied, "My own work has been for these Nebraska farmers and ranchers, and that is my focus. I leave it to experts to deal with the environmental issues. When I must articulate a political position, that's an appropriate consideration. But right now, I'm too closely connected to these farmers and I don't want to mix messages. So my message here is, TransCanada has not proven to be a proper applicant by its conduct, and that makes this issue really simple for me."

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