The Labor Department's December Jobs Report was disastrous -- with the 74,000 jobs gain falling far short of the 205,000 jobs forecast. The New York Times declared: "Just when it seemed as if the economy was finally accelerating, the latest employment figures once again confounded expectation of better days ahead."
With even the friendlies firing shots, the White House tried to get out in front of the story by holding a Jan. 14, meeting with the Cabinet, where President Obama aimed to pick up "the pace of his jobs message." According to The Associated Press, White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer sent out an email Tuesday morning to the White House list of supporters claiming: "The president will use every tool he can to create jobs and opportunities for the middle class." The AP article highlights Obama's "determination to use the power of executive orders and administrative actions."
I oppose this administration's fondness for skirting Congress, but here's a case where an "executive order or administrative action" could really help.
If President Obama truly wanted to "create jobs and opportunities for the middle class," he could tell the U.S. Forest Service to work with -- instead of against -- people and companies that are ready to risk their capital in the development of our natural resources and create jobs.
While I am sure my readers could cite many similar stories, this one involves mining and mules. I have addressed this specific case three times before -- first, July 2010, when the Forest Service approved the "Plan of Operation" for the Finley Basin Exploration Project in Montana.
In the '70s Union Carbide drilled several exploration holes on the site, "which is rated as having moderate to high mineral potential for the majority of the area." It is believed that there is a minimum of $250 million in tungsten -- which we currently import from China -- and that the site also has potential copper, silver, molybdenum, and gold.
When I originally addressed this project, an Australian company wanted to develop the Finley claims. But the Forest Service was so difficult to work with, after spending more that $500,000 over two years, the company finally packed up and went home.
The June 10, 2010, "Decision Memo" states that in order to explore the previously drilled sites, miners will have to "use a team of mules" and that "hand tools will be used to level the drilling pad and clear rocks, debris and any small shrubs." Additionally, "all disturbances would be reclaimed using hand tools."
While explaining the "rationale" for the decision, the memo states that the company has the "legal right to conduct exploration activities" and that "(t)he role of the Forest Service is to ensure that mining activities minimize adverse environmental effects. Congress has not given the Forest Service authority to unreasonably circumscribe or prohibit reasonably necessary activities under the 1872 General Mining Law that are otherwise lawful."
After the Australians left, the 276 claims were sold. Together, the new partners in Finley Mining Inc. have more than 80 years experience in mining.
Because the whole mule idea was unfeasible for the size and weight of the required equipment, they submitted a revised Plan of Operations that allowed for use of the existing road. The experienced partners have, in the past two-and-a-half years, submitted five different plans of operation. Each time, the Forest Service comes back with some new ridiculous questions, such as: "In what order do you plan to drill the holes?"
The frequent excuse revolves around the various regulations -- complying with the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Management and Policy Act, and other Environmental Protection Agency rules and regulations. Forest Service specialists claim they are underfunded and understaffed and are unable to do the processes required before granting a permit.
Meanwhile, to hold the claims, these potential job creators, have to pay $40,000 a year to the Bureau of Land Management. They have spent more than $200,000 and jumped through hoops, yet they are no further along.
Since the Forest Service doesn't have the staff or the budget to comply with the law, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've already taken in on this one project, Finley Mining Inc. has offered to hire approved contractors who can do the needed surveys.
This one project would employ 10 people in the initial exploration phase. Assuming the resource proves up, as the original drilling on these sites indicated, more drilling will take place and, in addition to the drill site workers, biologists, engineers, economists, and geologists also will be needed for analysis. If all goes as expected, Finley Mining Inc. projects a minimum of 300 people would be hired for the construction and mining phases.
If the Forest Service encouraged expansion, rather than enforcing regulations, and managed the forest for the multiple use their mission mandates, the 300 construction workers could now be receiving a paycheck and paying taxes.
If President Obama is serious about using "every tool he can to create jobs and opportunities for the middle class," instead of appointing a new commission or doing a study, he'd issue an administrative action telling the Forest Service to comply with the law, to process permits within the 30 days required, and sign off on the "Plan of Operations" when it meets the existing requirements.
Unfortunately for America's un -- and under -- employed, reality tells us that the Jan. 14 promise is just more hyperbole, more campaign-style platitudes.