Just Extending Public Comment Period During COVID-19 Pandemic Is Not Enough, Watchdog Group Says
Helena, MT – In response to news that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will extend the public comment period on a land management plan that could allow more drilling near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Western Values Project spokesman Chris Saeger released the following statement:
“Extending the public comment period isn’t enough: drilling near these historic lands that are sacred to tribal communities shouldn’t even be on the table. We are in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Interior Secretary Bernhardt from pandering to his oil and gas allies at every turn. The Trump administration must get its priorities straight and put Western families ahead of their special interest allies.”
Secretary Bernhardt’s decision to extend the public comment period comes following requests from the New Mexico congressional delegation, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the State of New Mexico.
The Interior Department has been helping extractive resource industries throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In April, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued guidance to public lands oil and gas drillers on how to apply for reduced royalty rates or lease suspensions during the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby allowing companies that drill on public lands to pause their leases rent-free.
And the Trump administration has been blatantly bailing out the oil and gas industry. In just the first two weeks of the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP), oil, gas and mining companies got a whopping $3.9 billion in PPP funding, even though the program was designed to help small businesses, not publicly traded corporations. In its bailing out of extractive resource corporations, the administration has given PPP funding to a foreign-owned uranium mining corporation with ties to the Trump administration, a Indiana-based coal corporation with a former Trump official as its lobbyist, and oil corporations that spent millions on stock buybacks.
And last month, the administration granted the oil lobby another one of its wishes and made it easier for the oil and gas industry to access funding. Following requests from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Main Street Lending Program eased restrictions on borrowing for heavily indebted oil companies and allowed them to use the loans to refinance existing debts.