(THE GUARDIAN) January 12, 2019 — Three weeks into the longest US government shutdown in history, many important government services have been paused – but the Trump administration has continued efforts to expand oil drilling.
Despite the shutdown directive, which has seen national park staff furloughed and the parks suffering from neglect, the interior department has continued processing oil drilling permits and applications. It has also moved forward with a controversial plan to increase drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
According to a “contingency plan” for an interior department agency, the Bureau of Land Management, approved last year, employees exempt from furloughs include those “working on selected energy, minerals and other associated permit activities for which the Bureau charges a processing fee”.
As a result, workers in New Mexico and Wyoming have continued to process oil and gas drilling applications.
In Alaska, the Trump administration is rolling out a contentious plan to overwrite Obama-era protections and expand the oil and gas leasing in two controversial areas, the wildlife refuge and the NPR-A. Since the shutdown began, the interior department moved forward with previously scheduled public meetings to educate stakeholders and provide opportunities for comment and discussion.
Conversely, the same type of meetings scheduled by the Department for an 800-megawatt wind farm project being built off the coast of Massachusetts, were canceled.
Oversight officials have begun to probe the agency.
“Asking people to comment on two major development processes in the Arctic with huge potential environmental and human consequences without anyone in the agency able to answer questions defeats the purpose of the public participation process,” chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Raúl M Grijalva wrote in a letter to the acting secretary of the interior, David Benhardt on 7 January. He added that the move gave “the strong impression that BLM is simply trying to check the boxes and end the comment periods as soon as possible, not engage in a meaningful dialogue with impacted communities or stakeholders”.