While National Parks Fall Apart, Oil and Gas Activities at Interior Are Full Steam Ahead

The Interior Department has allowed national parks to be destroyed by trash and waste, removed sage grouse conservation proposals from its website, and shut down its Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) office during the government shutdown. But for oil and gas drilling, it’s business as usual.

During the shutdown, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees have continued to process oil drilling applications, and are going forward with holding meetings to allow oil lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge– one of the administration’s most controversial policy goals. According to E&E News, BLM’s shutdown plan allows 2,300 of the agency’s 9,260 employees to keep working both full-time and on-call, and of those working, 800 are focusing on energy-related activities.

“While the shutdown scorches our public lands, wildlife, and everyday Americans’ livelihoods, David Bernhardt is still making sure oil and gas special interests get through this shutdown unscathed,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of Western Values Project. “Our national parks, special places that our government has pledged to protect forever, are being pillaged while precious taxpayer funding is going to protect industry operations. Like his predecessor before him, Bernhardt is tipping the scale and putting special interests above the rest of us.”

Last weekend, Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued a legally dubious order allowing the National Park Service (NPS) to dip into entrance fees to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks, and open areas that had been shut. Bernhardt’s order came after national parks have become increasingly damaged from trash and waste and as accidents and deaths have increased. National parks are still open but staffed with skeleton crews.

In his memo obtained by The Hill, Acting Secretary Bernhardt is allowing NPS to use all necessary entrance fees until they “reach zero.” Critics have questioned the legality of the order, as parks fees are supposed to support visitor services, and not daily operations and basic maintenance. It is unclear how Interior or Congress intend to backfill park entrance fees now being used for cleaning up. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, the National Park Service has never had more than an Acting Director, which calls into question who made the decision to keep the parks open and why that decision was made.

This isn’t the first time Interior has urged staff to work over a break to benefit industry. In 2017, Western Values Project learned from emails obtained through a FOIA request, Interior headquarters urged Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement employees to work over Christmas to give an Italian oil company– which just happens to be a former client of David Bernhardt’s– a nice “Christmas present.”

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