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For more than 20 years, efforts to build coal slurry pipelines - including possible lines across Utah - have been defeated in Congress, chiefly because of opposition by the railroad industry. Railroads want to keep the long-distance coal hauling business to themselves.

Slurry, which is crushed coal mixed with water, can be moved in a pipe and offers a cheaper way to ship the fuel. But, except for a few short pipelines, the idea has never gotten far.A major problem is that long-distance slurry pipelines cannot be built without the right of eminent domain, the ability to take property for rights-of-way. Congress has steadfastly refused to grant the right of eminent domain. And the railroads, which were not only given the right of eminent domain, but also given great tracts of land by the federal government in the early days, now refuse to let pipelines cross their land.

Surprisingly, after lying dormant for years, a pro-pipeline bill has cleared the House Interior Committee and now goes to the House Public Works Committee. The measure ought to be approved.

It would not open the country to a vast network of pipelines. Each project would have to be approved by the Secretary of Interior, who would determine if it were in the national interest. The decision would include such issues as whether the pipeline would open new markets for coal, whether it would help competition, and whether there would be any harm to the environment.

Questions involving water used in slurry pipelines have been raised, but previous measures have guaranteed that states would have retain jurisdiction over water priorities.

If disputes over rights-of-way can be resolved, coal slurry pipelines could help Utah and other states get coal deposits to market, and perhaps open more doors for exports to Asia.

Railroads, with their history of generous federal help, should not be allowed to stand in the way of slurry pipelines just because they don't want the competition.