Nebraska lawmakers, by a 35-to-2 vote, approved a preliminary measure that would let TransCanada move ahead with a $2 million study to find a new route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state.
Ken Winston, a Sierra Club representative, was quoted by the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star as saying TransCanada likely had a hand in swaying legislator's opinions.
"TransCanada is coercing the legislature to pass legislation to suit its purposes," he said.
Critics of the measure said they were worried TransCanada could use eminent domain to acquire land for Keystone XL. The measure says that claim could be made once the company has U.S. government approval for the entire Keystone XL project, the newspaper said.
Nebraska last year objected to a proposal from TransCanada to build Keystone XL through the state's Sandhills, an area containing the Ogallala Aquifer. The White House rejected a permit for entire Keystone XL project because it said Republican-backed legislation didn't give Nebraska enough time for review.
The Nebraska legislation is slated for two more rounds of review.
The pipeline has become political fodder in the United States amid contentious debates over domestic energy policy. TransCanada plans to file for another permit once the Nebraska issue is settled.