The Next Campaign to Kill Keystone

By Daniel McGroarty

The Keystone Pipeline has just received another positive report from the U.S. State Department - its fifth in five years - but the Friday afternoon press release had barely uploaded to the State Department website when the department's spokeswoman detailed the path ahead: A 90-day review period involving eight other government agencies, then the secretary's review. And of course President Obama's final up or down decision.

Will Keystone at long last get the green light, or will it remain in limbo, regardless of how many federal studies fail to find any fatal fault with the project?

Pipeline opponents show no signs of giving up. Here's a prediction: The next round of anti-Keystone attacks won't involve charges of polluted aquifers, carbon emissions or even -- in the memorable Mother Jones headline -- "7 Adorable Animals Imperiled by the Keystone Pipeline." It will be the pipeline's alleged threat to "sacred sites"; places where indigenous peoples prayed, buried their ancestors or, as the case may be, picked acorns.

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That last item is the activity associated with a "sacred site" claimed by an Arizona tribe to stop a major new copper mine, which would almost single-handedly close the copper gap that has the U.S. importing 600,000 tons of the metal each year instead of mining its own.

Even as Arizona Representatives Ann Kirkpatrick (D) and Paul Gosar (R) reached across the political aisle to craft a federal land swap -- opening a path for the project by bringing thousands of prime conservation acres under federal control -- project opponents backed an amendment putting sacred sites under the purview of the secretary of the Interior. With little legislative language defining what a sacred site is, an unelected federal official would have largely unchecked power to put not just an Arizona copper mine, but any project, out of business.

Sound cynical? Not really. Witness Capitol Hill reporter Michael Bastach, who last fall reported that the lobbying firm hired by the Arizona tribe to implement the sacred site strategy was the very same firm that backed an Alabama Indian tribe in its effort to bulldoze another tribe's graveyard -- in order to build a casino. 24-hour slots with a complimentary breakfast -- is there any site more sacred than that?

Having given the sacred site strategy a test-run in the mining battle, get ready to see the tactic go national.

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Daniel McGroarty, principal of Carmot Strategic Group, an issues management firm in Washington, D.C., served in senior positions in the White House and at the Department of Defense.

(AP Photo)

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