Repost from the San Jose Mercury News
Administration brought back furloughed employees to plan for radically expanding offshore oil and gas drillingBy MARY CREASMAN, January 27, 2019 at 7:15 am, updated January 28, 2019 at 4:16 am
President Trump’s government shutdown held our communities hostage over a racist and environmentally destructive border wall.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were forced to go without paychecks while the bills piled up. (How long could you go without a paycheck?) Our national parks suffered what could be permanent damage. Public health protections and safeguards against pollution were put on hold.
But one industry continued with business as usual — oil and gas.
During the shutdown, Acting Interior Secretary and former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt brought back furloughed employees to continue working on plans to radically expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
Leasing our oceans to polluters is apparently an “essential” function for this administration. As drafted, the plans would open nearly all of our nation’s coasts to oil and gas drilling, including California’s shoreline — where there have been no federal lease sales since 1984.
The offshore drilling expansion itself is unacceptable, but the fact that the Trump administration prioritized work on it during the shutdown is a slap in the face to the furloughed federal employees and all Californians who care about our beaches and healthy oceans.
And the Interior Department’s efforts to advance offshore drilling wasn’t Trump’s only effort to keep the oil and gas industry happy despite the shutdown.
While thousands of other government employees were furloughed, the Trump administration was quietly moving ahead with its efforts to advance drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic region of Alaska.
Similarly, even as national parks remained largely unstaffed, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency in the Interior Department, moved forward on 22 new drilling permit applications on public lands in Alaska, North Dakota, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
This blatant catering to the oil industry is unprecedented. The shutdown was so good for Big Oil that the head of the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s main trade association — admitted they “have not seen any major effects of the shutdown on our industry.”
That statement contrasts deeply with the harm imposed elsewhere by the shutdown. Here in California, communities suffering from drinking water contamination had to wait for the EPA to reopen for action on toxic chemicals.
Overflowing trash bins and toilets, permanent vandalism and destruction left lasting damage on our national parks, and these places had to rely on volunteers to fill the gaps while federal workers and contractors were forced off the job. Joshua Tree National Park, for example, saw visitors chopping down iconic Joshua trees, illegal off-roading and graffiti — and the Park Service didn’t have staff to investigate.
These misplaced priorities should not come as a surprise given the Trump administration’s efforts, from Day 1, to sell our public lands and waters to Big Oil and other corporate polluters. The administration is stacked with industry executives focused on profits over people.
Our environment and our communities deserved better than the needless damage inflicted by the Trump shutdown. Thankfully, we have representatives in Congress who will fight to protect our coast.
Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, have introduced legislation that would preserve California’s coast from the Trump administration’s drilling expansion. And California voters decisively sent a bold and pro-environment freshman class to the House of Representatives to stand up to Trump’s toxic agenda.
The Trump administration is shameless about its agenda to ruin our environment and poison our families, all to ensure more corporate profits. But California is paying attention, and we won’t let it happen.Mary Creasman is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters.