As the government shutdown drags well into its second week, the gates to America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests remain closed and the taxpaying public is denied access. Not everyone will be turned away at the gates, however: oil, gas, and coal companies that are already drilling and mining on our public lands can proceed with business as usual.
A quick survey of the contingency plans (see: Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Park Service) of various federal agencies shows how extraction can continue unfettered, even while the rest of of are shut out of our public lands. Today, there are 12 national parks with oil and gas drilling operations underway, and coal mining is widespread across BLM lands, particularly in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.
The Department of the Interior, which oversees oil and natural gas drilling as well as U.S. public lands, will furlough up to 58,765 of its 72,562 employees, according to its updated plan. National parks will close and reviewing new oil and gas leases will halt, but the DOI will continue monitoring existing operations.
“The majority of the personnel that are excepted are law enforcement, wildland fire, emergency response and security, animal caretakers, maintenance and other personnel that would be focused on the custodial care of lands and facilities and protection of life and property,” the DOI's plan said. On the outer continental shelf, “the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would continue to ensure the safety of drilling and production operations and issue drilling and other offshore permits, however renewable activities and five year plan work would be terminated.”
At least one elected official recognizes this as unfair and unjust. On October 3, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the officials to halt mining and extraction on public lands while the public itself was locked out.
Rep. Grijalva’s letter reads: