The government shutdown is not stopping key components of U.S. fossil fuel development from moving forward.
Despite almost 800,000 employees not working, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is still processing oil drilling applications. Up to 2,300 of BLM’s 9,260 employees are able to work either full-time or on call. Of this available pool of employees, more than 800 are handling energy-related activities, which include “working on selected energy, minerals, grazing, and other associated permit activities for which the Bureau charges a processing fee,” according to the rules of the current shutdown plan.
The guidelines for how BLM employees process drilling applications is a far cry from the last time the federal government was shutdown.
Around 200 applications for drilling permits on federal lands were not processed when the government endured a 16-day shutdown in 2013. At that time, the Obama administration determined that such applications would not be processed because that work was required from employees who were being furloughed.
However, government shutdowns also can reveal what the White House deems a priority. The Trump administration — which has made U.S. “energy dominance” a major policy platform — has opened a large amount of Western federal land to be auctioned off. A BLM spokesman confirmed to E&E News on Monday that the agency is continuing to move forward with drilling applications because “they are an exempted activity during a lapse in appropriations.”
“This time around it looks like for whatever reason that same management and support is not needed, and they will continue to work on energy permitting and processing,” Warren King, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, said to E&E News.
The Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are also able to continue operating under the government shutdown because President Donald Trump signed a “minibus” budget into law in September 2018. However, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior are shut down, which could possibly delay other drilling and offshore wind plans. (RELATED: Taxing The Rich Probably Isn’t Enough To Fund Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal.’ Who Else Would See Higher Taxes?)
Monday marked the 16th day the federal government has been under a partial shutdown, tying it for third-longest shutdown in U.S. history. It’s not clear when Washington, D.C., will end the standoff by passing a budget. Trump and congressional Democrats continue to be at odds over funding for a wall on the country’s southern border with Mexico.
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