With all eyes trained on the fight over government spending and Obamacare, the House is scheduled to take up a non-controversial land-swap bill that would trade 2000 acres of federal land in Arizona for 5000 acres of pristine land owned by Resolution Copper mine. The bill has bipartisan support and should it be enacted, it is estimated that nearly 4,000 jobs will be created in the area. Radical environmentalists of course oppose this swap and have joined with local tribes to offer an amendment to the swap bill that, if adopted, would become the environmentalists’ most powerful tool to kill economic development throughout the nation.
Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM) has promised to offer an amendment to the legislation that would empower the Secretary of Interior to override existing laws that protect tribal sacred sites and designate land as an Indian “cultural site.” Such a designation would kill the mine project, its 4,000 jobs and serve as a model to kill other projects. Federal law already protects Native America “sacred” land.
So, what is a “cultural” site? No one knows for sure. Proponents of the Lujan Amendment argue that any land where Native Americans have prayed and gathered is enough to trigger the designation. Is there any land in the United States that does not meet that threshold?
The impact of the Lujan amendment cannot be measured. The copper mine in Arizona, for instance, is 20 miles form the nearest reservation. The Forest Service did an impact study and found there were no sacred sites to be found on the land. That’s why Mr. Lujan and his supporters are trying to lower the threshold. The lower threshold kills the project and its 4,000 jobs. But more critically, the amendment sets the precedent that has environmentalists’ mouths watering.
Many observers believe that this precedent-setting amendment is a dry run to kill the Keystone Pipeline project specifically and set up a new paradigm for development in America. Can anyone say with a straight face that somewhere along the thousands of miles of pipes, there will not be a parcel of land where Native Americans once slept, gathered or ate? If the same logic being used on the land swap bill is applied, the Secretary of Interior–an avowed radical–would have the power to unilaterally pull the plug on the project. We have already seen what happened when one agency –the EPA — has the power to issue regulations that kill jobs. Could Republicans be so naive as to give another government agency the same power?
The Lujan amendment, as written, only applied to the copper mine in Arizona. But if there are enough votes to pass through a Republican House, it will be a precedent setter that will weaponize opposition to economic development for years to come on nearly every square inch of American soil and threaten the property rights for land owners all across the nation.