Key court approves Keystone's route through Nebraska

The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday struck down a lower court's challenge to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, handing a key victory to proponents of the project.

The decision overturns a lower court's ruling that had sided with landowners challenging Keystone's path through Nebraska. The lower court said a 2012 law that allowed Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to greenlight the route was against the state's constitution.

By striking down the decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court removes President Obama's core argument for threatening to veto legislation approving the project.

The House is set to approve that legislation on Friday, and the Senate is expected to begin considering legislation next week.

After the decision was announced, the White House said the veto threat stood. 

"Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with long-standing executive branch procedures regarding the authority of the president and prevents the thorough consideration of complex issues that could bear on U.S. national interests, and if presented to the president, he will veto the bill," Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement.

Republicans fired back that Obama had no reason not to greenlight the pipeline.

“President Obama is now out of excuses for blocking the Keystone pipeline and the thousands of American jobs it would create," Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court MORE (R-Ohio) said in response to the ruling. "Finally, it’s time to start building.”

The decision by the Supreme Court in Nebraska was 3-4, with four justices ruling that the landowners who brought the suit had legal standing. Because a supermarjority of five is needed on a matter related to Nebraska's constitution, the court rules that the 2012 law stood.

Bold Nebraska, a coalition of landowners and tribal leaders who led the charge against the project, wouldn't say if it planned to appeal the ruling.

"TransCanada is left with a risky route to defend. This is a bad day for property rights in our state. Private, foreign corporations now know they can buy their way through our state," said Bold Nebraska founder Jane Kleeb.

Friday's ruling puts the ball back in the State Department's court, where the administration will be able to wrap up its final review of the pipeline.

Once the department finishes its national interest determination, it will send the project to Obama's desk. 

The administration will be facing fresh pressure to hand down a decision on the project with the litigation in Nebraska finalized. 

“President Obama has no more excuses left to delay or deny the Keystone XL pipeline,” said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard. "The project has strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and a majority of Americans want to see it approved."

— This story was updated at 10:56 a.m.