The Trump Administration is continuing to push for expanded oil and gas drilling permits despite the partial federal government shutdown, drawing a rebuke from House Democrats as well as environmentalists.
According to National Public Radio, emails show an Interior Department employee working to schedule public meetings for a plan covering the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska earlier this month during the shutdown. A message NPR sent to the employee received an automated response indicating that the employee was barred from working due to the shutdown.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt a letter calling for a halt of ongoing work pertaining to upcoming offshore lease sales, seismic permits and a five-year drilling plan. Grijalva accused the administration of caring about the shutdown’s effects on its favorite industry rather than its widespread effects on federal workers.
Interior officials told the AP that they would be willing to meet with Grijalva when it was appropriate.
The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group often critical of the president’s policies, said in a statement Wednesday that Interior had recalled Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Offshore Energy Management employees in what it called an “accelerating effort” to keep future lease sales on track by maintaining public comment schedules.
“Processing drilling permits is surely not a critical government function, but to the former oil and gas lobbyist, it’s the Interior Department’s top mission,” said the center’s policy director, Jesse Prentice-Dunn. “Instead of following the law, Bernhardt seems to be looking for any loophole to make this shutdown painless for the oil and gas industry.”
KTVA requests for comment from Alaska’s congressional delegation were pending Wednesday afternoon.