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May 23, 2012

Nebraskans Fight Back Against Tar Sands Giveaway

PipelineLast month, the Nebraska legislature rewrote state law to try and smooth the way for the dangerous and controversial Keystone XL pipeline. But today a group of Nebraska landowners has filed a lawsuit in Nebraska challenging the constitutionality of those changes and asking the court to uphold the right of Nebraskans to protect their property from a foreign company.

Keystone XL is a massive tar sands pipeline that would endanger the Ogallala Aquifer -- the nation's largest aquifer and the source of drinking water for millions of people. Farmers in the Sand Hills and other agricultural regions in Nebraska with sandy soils and shallow groundwater are at particular risk from the pipeline trenching. All of Nebraska is at risk from the contamination of surface water and groundwater sources in the event of a spill. And TransCanada’s dismal safety record means that risk is very likely, and very real.

After heavy lobbying by TransCanada the Nebraska legislature voted to hand Nebraska's future over to Big Oil on a silver platter. The law lets the governor grant pipeline companies such as TransCanada immediate eminent domain authority -- the right to force landowners to hand over their property to the company -- without having to wait for federal permits. This reckless law also eliminates transparent environmental assessment requirements, in effect giving Nebraska land to a foreign company without accountability or any need to review environmental impacts.

The lawsuit, Thompson v. Heineman, will focus on the fact that this law fails to provide for judicial review, lets the governor hand over eminent domain powers without any sort of standards, and gives favor to "a single company and not persons in general, which violates the Nebraska state constitution." In other words, it throws Nebraska families and communities -- people who have earned their livelihood on their land for generations -- overboard.

The Sierra Club's Ken Winston, a Nebraskan who first raised the constitutional question in the state legislature, recognized the Nebraska farmers who are leading this fight, saying, "Randy Thompson, Susan Luebbe, and Susan Dunavan are true American patriots standing up for the fundamental rights of all Nebraskans. The state cannot deny Nebraskans the right to protect property from a foreign company. And these Nebraska landowners, along with the Sierra Club and our broad coalition of partners, won't take the bullying and deception from an oil company lying down."

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