Energy & Environment

Lujan’s sacred site scheme jeopardizes Keystone XL

Lujan’s sacred site scheme jeopardizes Keystone XL

Capitol Hill conservatives are on alert for a backdoor maneuver by a Sept. 26 New Mexico congressman to a Arizona-related bill that could mean the end of the Keystone XL pipeline until a Republican occupies the White House.

More than five years ago, the Calgary-based TransCanada, and its partners, applied for an extension of its Keystone pipeline that carries crude and shale oil from Canada to American refineries.

Despite opposition from President Barack Obama, environmentalists, and the railroads that now carry the oil to those refineries, the jobs and opportunities the pipeline extension will create keeps the dream of this extension alive.

Even if Republicans succeed in including approval for the extension in its proposals for the next budget for fiscal year 2014—environmentalists found a silver bullet to put it down, perhaps permanently.

The maneuver by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D.-N.M,) would give the Interior Department arbitrary authority to designate privately-held land as a sacred and protected, by a loose set of criteria that require some inkling that once a Native American prayed, sang or treated one of his tribesmen with herbal medical remedies there.

What has conservatives hitting the panic button is that the amendment is seen as a “rehearsal of concept” for expanded authority for the Secretary of the Interior for the whole country—and that means Keystone, not Plymouth Rock.

Lujan’s amendment is to H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, a bill that would swap federal land in Arizona with land owned the Resolution Copper partnership, so that Resolution can mine copper on the now-federal land.

The congressman is a passionate opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, and has voted for every effort to delay or stop and against every effort to expedite the pipeline or streamline the approval process.

The swap is sponsored by Democrats and Republicans in the Arizona delegation, as well as state leaders and media. In addition to the benefits to Arizona, the mine is part of a national effort to close the “copper gap,” the 600,000 metrics tons of copper that America uses than it produces.

In its current form, the Lujan’s language would only apply to the land transferred to the mining operation, that fact alone makes it a poison pill.

Remember, there are already programs in place to recognize and set-aside historical and cultural sites, what makes the Lujan amendment different is its emphasis on religious sites and the arbitrary authority.

It was not until staffers read into the sweeping powers granted to the Interior secretary to remedy a problem that did not exist.

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Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R.-Ariz.), the lead sponsor of the H.R. 687, is a dentist, who has spent huge chunks of his professional career working in the Indian communities and caring for Indian patients, dismissed Lujan’s suggestion that he would put forward a bill that would threaten sites holy to the local Indians.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Gosar wrote: “Please note: H.R.687 does not involve any reservation lands. The nearest federal parcel is located over 20 miles from’ the boundaries of the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s reservation.”

Gosar further wrote: “There is no verifiable evidence to date that cultural and religious Sites would be negatively impacted by the project.”

In fact, the Forest Service in 2008, studied the relevant areas and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact report, establishing once and for all there are no sacred sites endangered by the mine project.

When Congress returned from its summer break, the Gosar bill looked to sail through the House, because of its bipartisan and local support. Then, when the Lujan amendment was first floated, Republicans instinct was to support it, giving GOP members the rare chance to vote on the side of the Indians.

It speaks to the state of politics on Capitol Hill today, when the Democrats attempt to slip this language into onto innocuous land-swap bill that addresses the country’s copper shortage.

If the Lujan amendment succeeds in giving the Interior Secretary unbridled authority to designate private property as sacred, the environmentalists will not stop at Keystone.

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