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Nebraska ranchers see victory in Keystone rejection

OMAHA, Neb (Reuters) - Nebraska ranchers celebrated the Obama administration's rejection of the proposed Keystone pipeline on Wednesday as a hardfought victory for the state's environmentally sensitive Sandhills region - even as Republican lawmakers vowed to keep fighting for the project.

The Obama administration rejected the Canada-to-Texas pipeline because there was not enough time to complete a review of TransCanada's $7 billion project, which included finding a new route around the sensitive region in Nebraska.

TransCanada said it would reapply for a permit and would continue to work with the state.

Ben Gotschall, a fourth-generation Sandhills rancher, said pipeline opponents shared the belief that the future safety of land and water and the health and wellness of people and communities were more important than foreign oil profits.

Republican leaders, however, sharply criticized the decision, saying the project would create badly-needed jobs and energy security. Mitt Romney, front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said the decision demonstrated a lack of seriousness about tackling high unemployment.

Republican Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman called the decision disruptive, saying he was "very disappointed with the actions of President Obama and his decision to deny a jobs-creating pipeline, leaving thousands of Americans unnecessarily unemployed."

At the same time, many landowners in central Nebraska, where the pipeline would have run through a portion of a sensitive aquifer, cheered the pipeline's rejection, which looks almost certain to become a key political issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.

"The president has done the right thing and it is my hope that a foolhardy attempt by the Republicans to go around him can be headed off," said Randy Thompson, who owns land in central Nebraska on the pipeline's original route.

The rejection was "a major victory for the environment and for the people of the state of Nebraska," Nebraska Sierra Club lobbyist Ken Winston said, adding that the pipeline was pushed by "short-term profiteering and bad energy policies."

"We do not want to go back down that road," Winston said.

Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb said the advocacy group that organized protests in Nebraska and Washington would never stop fighting plans for the "risky export pipeline."

(Editing by Paul Thomasch)

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