EDITORIAL: Nary a prayer for jobs

Democrats invoke religion to block economic development

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Destroying jobs is hard work, but many liberal Democrats have a real knack for it. As early as Thursday, the House of Representatives could vote on an amendment from Rep. Ben Lujan of New Mexico to give Indian tribes the authority to shut down mining projects on any land they regard as sacred. This would ensure there are no jobs where jobs are needed most.

Congress is considering a bipartisan land-swap bill that would enable a mining company to trade a parcel of private land in southeastern Arizona for a smaller plot of federal land where a copper mine could be opened, creating more than 4,000 jobs. This would boost the local economy, but the Luddites think they have devised a clever way to stifle development.

Mr. Lujan introduced an amendment to enable the secretary of the interior, in consultation with Indian tribes, to “exclude all such sacred and cultural sites” from development, even when they’re not even on the reservation. The amendment allows almost anyone to define “cultural site.”

Congress loves loose words, and bureaucrats love to exploit them. A sacred site could be where a medicine man once danced a rain dance. A cultural site could be anywhere the natives once pitched a teepee. The language is so vague that it could be used to block just about any development. When Dutch settlers happened onto the island of Manhattan in the early 17th century and bought it from the natives for a box of baubles worth 60 guilders, about $25 dollars by today’s reckoning, there was no “cultural” exclusion for development. New York grew into a city too big to give back.

Preserving heritage is important, and federal law already does that. The Smithsonian operates a Museum of the American Indian, and the National Park Service preserves far more American Indian cultural sites than European contributions to our culture. We just don’t do religious sites. There is no preservation of the place where LaSalle, LaHarpe or DeSoto knelt to pray, or where Billy Graham pitched his “Canvas Cathedral” for a historic revival meeting in downtown Los Angeles in 1949. The debate isn’t really about preserving heritage. The proposed copper mine in Arizona is 20 miles from the nearest federal reservation, and the U.S. Forest Service has found no evidence of sacred sites or ceremonial use on the proposed land. The scheme is about killing the copper mine in the Apache Leap and Oak Flat regions of Arizona.

Arizona’s unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, a full point higher than the national average. The state can’t afford to send home the construction workers looking to turn wrenches, lay piping and build roads. The economy can’t afford it, either.

The language in Mr. Lujan’s bill would establish a legal precedent that could be used to thwart road construction, housing development, land exchanges, coal and other mineral mining just about anywhere in the country. Opponents of progress use any gimmick they can find to shut down job projects. Environmentalists will discover a sacred rock anywhere they see a shovel.

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