While most of the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are in a seemingly endless shutdown limbo, the priorities of the Trump Administration go on without a hitch. Two high profile examples came to light over the weekend — the preparation for newly nominated Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing and the busiest offices of the Bureau of Land Management are opening today to process oil and gas drilling permits.
The Hill reported on Friday that Acting Administrator Wheeler, whose nomination was only formally sent to the Senate on Wednesday of last week, will have a confirmation hearing in the Senate on the 16th, even as Dems protest that his hearing prep is being considered essential business at EPA.
- 13,000 EPA employees are currently furloughed.
And, the Casper Star-Tribune reported on Friday that the four busiest field offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — those in Wyoming — will open so that they can process applications for permits to drill, but with with a small staff and limits on what they can do, according to memo the Petroleum Association of Wyoming cited by the paper.
- BLM offices in New Mexico were open last Friday also to process permits, according to U.S. News & World Reports.
Bloomberg News reported last week that Interior Department is still issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico and is moving forward on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska.
- In Alaska, the Interior Department held a public meeting in Alaska regarding a plan to allow pipelines and drilling rigs near wetlands that sustain caribou and threatened birds.
Some oil and gas related projects, however, are being held up. According to Bloomberg, the shutdown appears to have halted environmental reviews of Dominion Energy Inc.’s $7 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline and TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline, and permits to conduct seismic surveys to help find oil in the Atlantic Ocean are also on hold during the shutdown.
- But Bloomberg reported that fishing boats are unable to get permits in Alaska, and the public meeting for a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts is on hold.
Why This Matters: The shutdown is inherently unfair. The Trump Administration is politicizing the determination of what is an “essential” government function — which is the key for what activities go on and which do not — in ways that favor oil and gas and other special interests close to the President and other political appointees. It is government “for” only certain favored people and businesses — like oil and gas. The only upside to Wheeler getting his hearing during the shutdown is that at least Democratic Senators can grill him about it.
To Go Deeper: Watch the CBS News video below about the hardship the shutdown is causing for individual employees at EPA and the Interior Department.