Neil McCabe

Capitol Hill supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are hitting the panic button over a seemingly harmless amendment to a non-controversial federal land-swap bill to facilitate a new Arizona copper mine.

The amendment, filed Sept. 26 by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D.-N.M.) to H.R. 687, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, a bill that authorizes the transfer of federal land in Arizona to the Resolution Copper mine partnership, in exchange for land owned Resolution, gives the Secretary of Interior the power to designate a site as sacred or culturally significant to Indians.

Remember, there are already protections for sacred sites in current law, one of bills innovations is to mingle in the “cultural,” which really means anything or nothing.

There are no concrete requirements for this designation, and because there is no process for the private land owner to appeal, the only recourse would be that harsh wilderness called the federal court system.

In his public statements, Lujan presents this amendment as a protection for sacred Indian sites threatened by the operation of the mine. But in reality, it is a poison-tipped arrow aimed at the Keystone pipeline.

With this authority the Interior Secretary could simply slap the sacred-and-or-cultural label on the private land in front of the pipelines extension, and it probably spells game over. If TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, has to wait until a Republican wins the White House and puts in a new Interior Secretary, it might be better off focusing on other projects.

The economic truth about Keystone is that railroads, some owned by Warren Buffett, are already carrying the shale and crude oil that the pipeline is supposed to move. Stopping Keystone is about stopping the flow of oil—it is about the federal government picking railroads over the pipeline, or letting the market decide.

Lujan is one of the most consistent opponents of the Keystone extension. He has voted against every effort to streamline its approval and supported every effort to stop or delay the project.

One of the reasons Keystone supporters are concerned is specter of Republican support for the amendment by GOP members of Congress looking for a chance for a “turquoise,” or pro-Indian vote.

The Republican rustling up GOP support for the amendment is Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.), a man who proudly wears his turquoise ties as he carries water for new Indian casinos and increased subsidies for tribal regimes.

Neil McCabe

Neil W. McCabe is a journalist working in Washington. He was a senior reporter for the Human Events newspaper and for many years a reporter for The Pilot, Boston's Catholic paper. In 2009, he deployed to Iraq with the Army as a combat historian for 15 months.