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Break out the champagne! The State Department decision to study routes to avoid Nebraska's beautiful and ecologically sensitive Sandhills is a victory against long odds.

It's hard to imagine a decision that could and would be hailed by everyone from conservative Gov. Dave Heineman to liberal Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska to environmentalist Ken Winston of the Sierra Club, but that's the case in this rare confluence of concerns and priorities.

Now there's a reasonable chance that the Keystone XL pipeline project will never rip a slow-to-heal gash across the Sandhills.

The statement from the State Department emphasized that the concern expressed by Nebraskans had been a key factor in the decision to delay the project.

The department's news release noted that testimony received during the comment period and at public meetings, including those in Nebraska, provided "additional context and information" about the special characteristics of the Sandhills, such as a high concentration of wetlands, a sensitive ecosystem and extensive areas of shallow groundwater.

The special session of the Legislature called by Heineman also was cited in the department's news release.

It's clear, however, that more work must be done at the state level. The department's statement provides more support for the view that the state has authority over pipeline location, stating:

"State law primarily governs routes for interstate petroleum pipelines; however, Nebraska currently has no such law or regulatory framework authorizing state or local authorities to determine where a pipeline goes."

It's dismaying that some leaders in the Legislature seem to have taken the federal announcement as an excuse to go back to sitting on their hands. Sen. Chris Langemeier of the Natural Resources Committee, which succeeded in bottling up during the regular session earlier this year, suggested that maybe the issue no longer needs to be discussed in a special session.


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The senators are in Lincoln and primed to take action. It's far better to focus on this single major issue -- which has generated as much statewide public interest as any single issue in recent history -- than trying to deal with it during the regular session, when senators are distracted by many other concerns.

This is a one-time opportunity. Cynics wonder whether it would have been granted at all if it had not provided a convenient excuse for the Obama administration to delay a final decision until after the elections next year.

As readers of this page know, the Journal Star editorial board called more than a year ago for the pipeline route to be moved to avoid the Sandhills. We think the pipeline needs to be built, just not through the Sandhills.

So we're joining the celebration of the State Department's announcement.

And we're looking forward to another celebration once senators put in place effective regulations, which will protect the Sandhills and Nebraska's interests in the future. We'll keep a bottle or two of champagne on ice. We hope senators won't let Nebraskans down.


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