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:
Dear Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack,
Despite the federal government shutdown making national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and many other important sites unavailable to the public, oil and gas drilling and other extraction activities continue on our federal public lands. The lack of oversight of these potentially hazardous activities greatly concerns me, especially because of the scarcity of manpower to respond to emergencies, pollution issues or other rapid response needs.
I am equally concerned about the many businesses that rely on our public lands. Concessionaires that operate facilities within our public parks and other federal lands have been locked out by the shutdown. So have river and trail guides who rely on public lands and waterways to make a living. Small businesses cannot afford to be cut off from their main - in some cases sole - source of income.
This disparity greatly disturbs me, as does the ongoing environmental risk to sensitive outdoor areas. I urgently request the immediate cessation of mining, drilling and other extractive activities on our federal public lands until we end the shutdown and cease the lockout of federal employees and visitors.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation
This week, Rep. Grijalva posted a petition on Credo Mobilize that allows American taxpayers to essentially co-sign his letter to Secretaries Jewell and Vilsack. Launched Monday, as of Tuesday evening the petition already has over 64,000 signatures, less than 11,000 shy of its target of 75,000.
Our federal lands are being mined, drilled, logged and just about everything else you can name – but because of the Republicans’ reckless and irresponsible shutdown of the federal government, we can't be there to hike or camp, and our park rangers can't be there to respond to emergencies. We need to get our priorities straight,” the petition begins.
If you agree that “fossil fuel and logging companies shouldn't have special access to our federal lands while rangers, hikers and the rest of us are locked out,” you can add your signature to Rep. Grijalva's petition here.