WASHINGTON — Some House Democrats on Thursday criticized the Interior Department for bringing furloughed workers back to their jobs without pay to continue processing oil and gas leasing and permits.
California Rep. Alan Lowenthal asserted that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages development of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf energy and mineral resources in federal waters, has ordered employees to keep working during the shutdown to continue leasing parcels of land for oil and gas drilling.
The Bureau of Land Management also has called its furloughed staffers to keep processing permit applications and advancing leasing processes.
Lowenthal claimed these are just a few of many examples of the Interior Department doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry, even during the partial government shutdown.
“The Bureau of Land Management is working nearly unimpeded on oil and gas activities near cultural sites and environmentally sensitive areas,” Lowenthal added.
Trump and his administration have de-regulated many of Obama-era policies on drilling and fracking, including leasing out three times more federally controlled oil and gas land for drilling in 2018 than the Obama administration averaged annually during its second term, according to an independently verified study by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a progressive research and advocacy group.
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation last year that his goals are focused on the president’s goals. “The president’s objectives actually represent the will of the people,” Bernhardt said.
Lowenthal and other Democrats said Bernhardt should explain why so many national parks aren’t open and how the money for processing oil and gas leasing is being spent.
Democratic Rep. Ed Case of Hawaii asked why permits for the oil and gas industry are considered essential government services.
Matt Lee-Ashley, who worked as the Interior Department’s communications director during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, said they are not. Instead, he said, there should be a greater focus on the essential operations for public lands that are not being performed due to the shutdown.
Money from recreation and enhancement fees at national parks are being used to perform basic maintenance at some parks, but that means depleting “the accounts that allow us to do great things for our parks,” said Dan Puskar, executive director of the Public Lands Alliance.
Puskar said he is grateful that private entities are donating to public parks, but that’s not the answer to sustaining their operations.
“The Interior Department needs to follow the law, protect public safety using the resources allocated to it, be fair and be honest with the public,” Lee-Ashley said. “A shutdown is no exemption. Trump’s Interior Department is following none of these principles. His department is a black box of secrecy.”