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Will Congress Create an Economic Czar With Unchecked Power Over U.S. Mines, Pipelines, and Railways?


While the Government Shutdown dominates the news channels and occupies the pundits, the U.S. Congress continues to conduct business with potentially far-reaching impact on the U.S. economy and national security.

Case in point: Debate concerning H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act – a meticulously crafted bill that would allow a proposed Arizona copper mine to proceed, with the mining company donating 5,000 acres of high-quality conservation land to the federal government. Anti-mining activists are using the Great Shutdown as cover to float an amendment to the land swap bill that, if adopted, in the words of one Capitol Hill reporter, “…would become the environmentalists’ most powerful tool to kill economic development throughout the nation.”

The proposed amendment “would empower the Secretary of Interior to override existing laws that protect tribal sacred sites and designate land as an Indian ‘cultural site’” – authority anti-mine activists would use to press for a decision derailing the copper mine. The amendment’s backers “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?”

But, the report goes on, that’s not what “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?”

This sweeping new Executive Branch authority comes as anti-mining advocates continue their campaign to have the EPA “discover” in legislative language written 40 years ago a pre-emptive veto power over mining projects that have not even presented a mine plan for permitting. Witness the recent decision by one of the partners in Alaska’s proposed Pebble copper and multi-metal mine to pull out of the project — now claimed as a victory by groups like Earthworks, who have never found a single mine that meets their standards.

As our own Daniel McGroarty has noted, these efforts typically begin with a single mine and a single metal, but the chilling effect is felt across the entire U.S. resource development sector, derailing projects that could produce the metals and minerals that feed American manufacturing – and perpetuating foreign metal dependencies to the detriment to the U.S. economy and, in many cases, our national security.

One day the Great Government Shutdown will end. Here’s hoping that when the Federal Government gears up again, the country won’t find that Congress has created a federal Economic Development Czar with the ultimate power over projects that affect our economic strength and technological progress.