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Page added on January 13, 2019

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Trump Administration Works Overtime to Make Sure Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Oil Drilling

Public Policy

The partial U.S. government shutdown has docked fishing boats in Alaska, delayed public meetings on a proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast and blocked pharmaceutical companies from seeking approval for new drugs.

But the Trump administration is working overtime to make sure the shutdown doesn’t halt oil drilling too — in ways critics say may flout federal law.

“One of the principles of government is that you serve everybody equally,” but that’s not what’s happening here, said Matt Lee-Ashley, a former deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department. “The oil industry is still getting business as usual and everybody else is getting shut out, so it’s fundamentally not fair and it may be illegal too.”

To be sure, some government work on energy projects is at a standstill now. For instance, 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. Interior Department permits to conduct seismic surveys to help find oil in the Atlantic Ocean also have been held up by the impasse.

But the Interior Department is still issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells on federal land and in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also moving forward on oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other parts of Alaska, going so far as to convene public meetings over whether to allow pipelines and drilling rigs near wetlands that sustain caribou and threatened birds.

Read More: New Aircraft, Beers on Hold as Businesses Feel Shutdown Pain

The department’s Bureau of Land Management, which conducted those meetings Friday and Saturday — and has two more planned this week — says it is using fiscal 2018 “oil and gas management appropriations” to keep the work going amid a standoff between Congress and Trump over fiscal 2019 spending. And the bureau asserts that onshore drilling permits are an exempted activity.

A separate agency — the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement — is keeping staff on the job to process new permits to drill in coastal waters, by relying on user fee revenue and non-appropriated funds. Applications to modify drilling permits are being considered on a case-by-case basis, with the agency focusing on those needed to ensure safe operations. “The permitting and enforcement activities that continue would allow industry to function during a government shutdown,” the offshore safety bureau says in its formal contingency plan.

“To this point, we have not seen any major effects of the shutdown on this industry,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said Tuesday on the sidelines of an event in Washington. “Many of the things we deal with are fee-based, and those have continued to go on as planned.”

It was a far different scene in 2013, when a funding dispute suspended work across the federal government for 16 days. During that shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management canceled at least one auction of oil and gas leases in New Mexico and stopped processing permits for drilling on federal land. (Just as is happening now, the offshore safety bureau kept processing permits for coastal drilling — drawing ire from environmental groups that protested the action).

Earlier: Trump Outlines Plans for Oil Drilling in Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Former President Barack Obama even highlighted the threat to the oil industry, pointing out at the time that the shutdown was hurting an industry Republicans are typically “very concerned about.”

The blueprint for which agency functions can keep going amid a shutdown is a 19th century law that bars the government from incurring new financial obligations in the absence of congressionally appropriated funding. In practice, that means the government can continue functions that don’t depend on annual appropriations from Congress, such as activity financed by user fees or multi-year funds. Activities deemed necessary for the “safety of human life or protection of property” also are allowed.

But the decisions are subjective. For instance, during the 2013 shutdown, the Obama administration largely closed national parks and briefly erected barricades around some open-air monuments. This time, the Trump administration has kept more of those sites open.

“Under the Obama administration, it was in their interest to make the shutdown as conspicuous and as ugly as possible,” said Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum. “In this case, the interest is clearly to mitigate as much as possible.”

Federal agencies have some latitude to decide what passes muster, but that discretion comes with risk for employees on the front lines. Federal employees who “knowingly and willfully” violate the 135-year-old Antideficiency Act face fines of as much as $5,000 and up to two years in prison.

Read More: Trump Lifting Hurdle to Coal Plants No One Wants to Clear

No one has been prosecuted under the law, Gray said, but it’s a “real threat” for agency budget officers. “From the perspective of the framers, it has a desirable chilling effect on freelancing by the executive branch,” Gray said. “Even if you don’t end up in front of a jury or in a courtroom, it’s not something you want to run afoul of.”

The nature of the law leads to clashes about what work can continue. For instance, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has postponed public meetings over developer Vineyard Wind’s bid to build a large-scale wind energy project off the Massachusetts coast 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The public meetings held in Alaska last weekend were conducted by the Bureau of Land Management, even though its state office is closed, with workers furloughed and generally unable to field inquiries from the press and public. At issue is an agency rewrite of a management plan that walled off oil and gas development in roughly half of the 22.1-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, including near Teshekpuk Lake, an area that provides habitat for caribou and many species of birds.

By holding the meetings amid the shutdown — when the bureau website is frozen with outdated information — the Trump administration is undermining public consultation, said David Krause, an Arctic lands conservation specialist with The Wilderness Society.

“This administration is certainly willing to shirk a meaningful public process so it can sell off the globally significant Teshekpuk Lake special area to oil companies,” Krause said.

The Interior Department’s focus on energy development comes even as other activities grind to a halt.

“Can you imagine a fire department in a local community running out of money and then deciding it is only going to serve wealthy houses because it doesn’t have money to cover everybody?” said Lee-Ashley, a senior director of environmental strategy at the Center for American Progress. “That’s kind of what’s going on here. The oil industry is still able to get the services they want from the federal government, but nobody else does.”


7 Comments on "Trump Administration Works Overtime to Make Sure Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Oil Drilling"

  1. Cloggie on Sun, 13th Jan 2019 11:18 am

    “Scharfe Kritik an US-Botschafter Grenell”
    (Sharp criticism to US-ambassador Grenell)

    Includes letter in which Grenell threatens companies.

    German politicians want the German government to protest against this interference in internal affairs, which clearly has one goal only: sell expensive US fracking gas to Europe and replace much cheaper Russian gas, as well as keep a hostile climate alive against Russia, eliminating the possibility of a geopolitical rapprochement between the EU and Russia (PBM), which is what Washington fears most.

    We in Europe need to lie low a little longer, buy some token US gas to appease and patiently wait for the Chinese to take back Taiwan and chase the US navy out of the South China Sea. THAT is the moment to really team up with Russia and at the same time declare yourself the protector of European America, for their own good.

    It’s better for the latter to be the junior partner of PBM, than being owned by their enemies into third world nothingness, as organized by their (((current owners))). At least we will not require the European Americans to phase themselves out of history.

  2. Cloggie on Sun, 13th Jan 2019 11:37 am 

    Der Spiegel loves, America (but not Trump), Britain and the West in general. They hate Putin (saboteur NWO) and… Brexit. Der Spiegel warns against mockery or Schadenfreude, because it is an outright drama for us as well, that in the worst case could lead to Britain and the EU becoming adversaries (says der Spiegel):

    Ein ungeordneter Ausstieg hingegen hat das Potenzial, schwere wirtschaftliche Verwerfungen auszulösen und das Klima zwischen dem Vereinigten Königreich und seinen bisherigen geostrategischen Partnern auf dem Kontinent derart zu vergiften, dass sie zu Gegnern werden könnten.
    (A disorderly exit, on the other hand, has the potential to provoke severe economic turmoil and poison the climate between the UK and its existing geostrategic partners on the continent in such a way that they could become adversaries.)

    Many British politicians will use the occasion to blame the continent (EU, Berlin, Paris) and return to their time tested splendid isolation.

    (Me: and wait for the opportunity to destroy the EU at the first suitable occasion, a direct consequence of balance of power/splendid isolation. Unfortunately Britain is visible from Cape Grey Nez/France and not Cape Cod/USA. A no deal Brexit and subsequent hostility could force continental Europe to make a U-turn towards Eurasia BEFORE China locks horns with the US/UK. It is the less favorable option, because it would side the British with the US in the inevitable upcoming WW3, the war that will end empire).

    To its horror, der Spiegel has to admit that Europe is changing. In western Europe, governments are weak, where in Eastern Europe and Italy and Austria populist governments are remarkable stable.

    Der Spiegel clearly doesn’t like the future and that is the good news.

  3. twocats on Sun, 13th Jan 2019 3:56 pm 

    illegal actions by the trump administration is being redundant at this point.

    also supports those who claim that oil industry will never be allowed to flag, no matter how unprofitable it becomes.

  4. Free Speech Forum on Mon, 14th Jan 2019 4:56 am 

    Americans beg for their chains.

    The elites tell Americans that they don’t need freedom and Americans nod their heads and say that they don’t need freedom.

    Americans say libtards hate Supreme Court nominees suspected of sexual harassment so judges must be approved even if they hate the Constitution.

    Americans say China exports cheap products so instead of boycotting imports, Americans scream that they need tariffs that will fund US wars, debt, and tyranny, raise prices, and kill jobs.

    Americans say illegal immigrants exist so rather than refusing to hire illegal aliens or move away from them, Americans scream that they need a wall that will be used to keep Americans IN instead of keeping illegal immigrants out.

    Americans say the minimum wage must be raised by decree instead of learning a new skill or starting a business.

    Americans say Muslims might buy guns so guns must be banned.

    Americans say people might drive without seatbelts so Americans scream that they need seatbelt checkpoints.

    Americans say black people might use hammers to smash the heads of white people so hammers must be outlawed.

    Americans say libtards might protest so protesting must be banned.

    Americans say Muslims go to mosques so religious freedom must be illegal.

    Americans say the news might be fake so newspapers must be closed.

    Americans say someone might use pot so there must be asset forfeiture.

    Americans say there might be terrorism so there must NSA wiretapping, CIA torture, and TSA groping.

    There is absolutely no hope for the USA. No one hates freedom more than Americans do. The US deserves everything coming to it.

  5. Sissyfuss on Mon, 14th Jan 2019 8:20 am 

    Scrub,the Younger said we are addicted to oil just before he invaded Iraq. Even we environmentalists bemoan the possibility of going without. Addicted and spoiled we all be and dredding being forced into Clogs renewable rehab facility.

  6. JuanP on Wed, 16th Jan 2019 7:49 am 

    I am back, bitches! I just got back from a surfing vacation in Costa Rica. I am recharged and refreshed, and ready to continue fucking with the Exceptionalist for the foreseeable future. Life’s a beach!

  7. JuanP on Wed, 16th Jan 2019 7:50 am 

    My other ride is a surfboard! LOL!

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