The Canadian company TransCanada went to court Tuesday to use eminent domain to force Nebraska landowners to give their property for the Keystone XL Pipeline, as the Senate moved closer to approving the controversial project.
The Senate engaged in contentious debate over Keystone on Tuesday, with Republicans voting to bury Democratic amendments seeking to require that oil pumped through the pipeline stay in the U.S. and that only American iron and steel be used in its construction.
TransCanada, meanwhile, filed court papers in nine Nebraska counties to start the process of forcing access to the private lands the company says are needed for the pipeline to pump Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast. A 2012 Nebraska law grants the foreign company the right to use private property for the project through eminent domain but set Thursday as the deadline for TransCanada to get started.
TransCanada filed eminent domain actions against 86 Nebraska landowners, holdouts who have rebuffed the company’s offers for use of their land.
“This is just another step in the process. By no means does this mean this project is done negotiating with these landowners,” TransCanada lands manager Andrew Craig said in an interview.
The eminent domain process is expected to take six months. If TransCanada can’t reach a deal with the holdout landowners and a judge allows the company to use their property through eminent domain, appraisers would decide how much TransCanada must pay.
The landowners still would own their property, Craig said, but the company needs to secure a 115-foot easement through their land during construction of the underground pipeline and a 50-foot permanent easement after it’s built for the ongoing operations.
Craig said the company has reached deals with 88 percent of the affected landowners in Nebraska and hopes the holdouts will join them.
Jim Tarnick, a Nebraska landowner who is refusing to allow Keystone to cross his property, blasted the company on Tuesday for filing the eminent domain papers.
“This is just another bullying move by the foreign corporation that swears they are going to be a good neighbor,” he said in an emailed statement.
Seven of the landowners sued last week to challenge the pipeline route and attempt to prevent TransCanada from using eminent domain, a case that could take months for the courts to resolve.
It’s also not clear whether Keystone will get approval from the federal government.
Congress is poised to pass a bill forcing President Barack Obama to authorize construction, but Obama promises to veto it. The White House said authorization is premature because the State Department is still reviewing if the project is in the national interest.
The 1,179-mile Keystone XL is designed to ship as much as 830,000 barrels a day, mostly from the western Canadian oil sands, to refineries in Texas. Opponents argue it would worsen global warming by tapping the carbon-intensive oil sands, while supporters tout the construction jobs.
Senate Democrats unsuccessfully pushed an amendment Tuesday seeking to forbid export to foreign countries of any oil that goes through Keystone.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the pipeline could be used to ship Canadian oil to China with no energy benefit to the United States. “We would not be Uncle Sam, we would be Uncle Sucker if we did not keep that oil here,” Markey said.
Republicans said the amendment was unnecessary and pointed to a State Department analysis that found it unlikely that the Keystone oil would be primarily exported. The amendment was tabled on Tuesday by a majority vote, meaning it was essentially buried.
Republicans also voted to bury an amendment by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., requiring all materials for the pipeline to be produced in the United States.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, objected to the proposed amendment as setting a precedent. Murkowski said it would “be the first time that Congress has directed or forced private parties to purchase domestic goods and materials.”