In the rush to act on must-pass legislation in the waning days of the 113th Congress, it’s possible for ARPN followers to have some hope that sound resource policy is still possible in Washington. Case in point: the carefully-crafted federal land exchange package that is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass bill that sets in place Pentagon policies and defense funding for the year ahead.
Analyzing breaking legislation is a tricky business, and some have characterized the land exchange package as a federal land grab, appropriating even more acres into the already-massive federal wilderness inventory. And if that’s all there was to the package, there would be little reason to support it.
But that’s not the full story. The new lands added to the federal wilderness register are part of a balanced agreement that frees up current federal lands for resource development — providing new and needed domestic sources of oil, natural gas, coal, timber and key metals like copper.
As such, the land package is an opportunity to break the logjam that has characterized much of the 113th Congress, and to do so in a way that encourages the development of key materials critical to a revival of America’s manufacturing might.
Including such a package in the NDAA is well within the purview of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, as land exchanges have been a fixture in NDAA’s for at least 25 years, across both Republican and Democratic presidencies.
And in the case of copper, where the U.S. currently imports 600,000 metric tons a year, the exchange can facilitate a new source of domestic supply sufficient to nearly close the copper gap. That’s a legitimate national security objective, as the lack of copper and two of its by-product metals – molybdenum and tellurium – have, as the National Defense Stockpile Requirements Report notes, already caused significant defense weapons system delays.
Nor is this an example of last-minute special interest legislation being tossed into a must-pass bill. Senator Murkowski and Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been crafting this compromise for the better part of two years. This isn’t a last-minute ornament being hung on the Congressional Christmas Tree; the NDAA is the culmination of this process.
The NDAA land exchange package is a solid example of sound policy — a balanced package with bipartisan support that will generate jobs and GDP while advancing critical national security interests.