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Vol. 19, No. 4 Week of January 26, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Be very afraid for three more years

With the Obama Administration settled in for its second term, untold burdens on mining in Alaska foreseeably will spew forth

J. P. Tangen 

Special to Mining News 

As a co-chairman of the Federal Oversight Committee of the Alaska Miners Association for the past many years, it is interesting to me to see how the flow of new tinkering with the conduct of local affairs ebbs and flows at various stages of an incumbent federal administration.

The federal government still owns more 27 percent of our nation’s land, concentrated in the 11 contiguous western states and Alaska. About 225 million acres, or 62 percent, of our state falls into that category. Therefore, land management is of considerable concern to our committee. Land issues, however, are not the beginning, nor are they the end of the issues that occupy our attention. Clearly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with its regulatory focus on air and water as well as hazardous waste is a major source of concern. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, likewise, draws the attention of our committee, and there is always the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which enforces working conditions at mines.

New issues of concern come “over the transom” for the committee to consider as a ponderous rate, perhaps twice as fast as under the previous administration, which increased its own proposals at an accelerating rate. Whether a federal administration is Republican or Democrat, the urge to consolidate power with the central government is seemingly irresistible.

In recent months we have watched the Bureau of Land Management propose plans for the future of the public domain in Alaska and proceed as if there was no such thing as “multiple use.” We have seen the EPA usurp the authority of the Army Corps to literally banish that agency’s jurisdiction over wetlands regulation through the generation of a woefully inept assessment in Bristol Bay, by the use of make-believe premises. We have seen the State Department reach across the Bering Strait to propose an international park with our Russian neighbor, which can only be construed to be a barrier to development.

It seems to make no difference to the Obama administration, in particular, what the law says, or what it was intended to accomplish, if it can be used to advance a political objective. The costs in the health and wealth of those who work for and at Alaska’s mines seem irrelevant.

The forgoing prologue, however, must be considered in the context of where we are in the election cycle. Due to the wisdom of those who preceded us, the possibility of a “President for Life” became unconstitutional. As is often the case, when our leaders turned their hand to term presidential limits, it had an unanticipated consequence. Now, any President who is elected to a second term immediately becomes a lame duck and, therefore, can get away with virtually anything he chooses.

In the first term a President gets to pick his team, and weed out the heretics. In his second term, they go to work. The political appointees, who are the people who do the major damage in any administration, have a license to take their shot. Who can forget John Leshy, drafting Solicitor’s Opinions as the lights in the Interior Solicitor’s office were being turned off for the last time in the Clinton Administration?

Already, the incumbent President is governing by Executive Order in many matters; and, while the attempt to implement the so-called Affordable Care Act draws the attention of the popular press, his multitude of other minions are at their desks quietly generating standards, guidelines, plans, regulations, policy positions and a thousand other varieties of obstacles for the men and women who provide the metals and minerals that make the nation function.

Now that these Assistant Secretaries and Deputy Assistant Secretaries and Special Assistants have learned the path to the restroom, their jobs are essentially safe until January 2017. No one who finds himself in such a position of power is there simply because he or she was the best person for the job. Do not misunderstand, these appointees are generally accomplished and have “relevant” experience; however, they also have stereotypically earned their position by making wise political decisions, and they have the ego to prove it.

They will not waste this opportunity to advance their respective personal agendas. It is a given that those personal goals are consistent with the those of the Chief Executive, namely, to concentrate the management of the country, in every particular, in the hands of the self-proclaimed erudite.

The point, I think, is that the AMA’s Federal Oversight Committee is destined to be confronted with a staggering workload over the next three years. The committee is comprised a small handful of AMA members who volunteer each week to evaluate and participate in the response to the innumerable expectorants the government projects our way.

As the industry continues to grow so will the workload of the committee and the AMA and, in turn, the number of Alaskans who will perceive their future is tied to resource development. Talented analysts to parse the onslaught of federal incursions are in constant demand. Readers of this column may wish to consider participation.

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