As the unprecedented Federal shut-down continues, the majority of Americans now blame President Trump for the totally avoidable fiasco, which has brought some parts of the US Government to a standstill.
At the moment, there is no end in sight to the political stand off, with the President threatening it could continue for several months.
But one thing is certain: Although many of the major Government departments, including the State Department, Treasury and Department of Homeland Security are effectively shut-down, the impasse has not stopped the Trump Administration promoting oil and gas. This includes trying to open up ecologically sensitive areas of the Arctic.
The Alaska Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is part of the Interior Department, has still been holding meetings in Alaska about expanding oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, despite the shutdown.
Martha Itta, the administrator for the local tribal government near the North Slope oil fields, told Reuters: “There were a lot of people concerned about how they’re conducting business during the shutdown. There was even a question to them if the meeting was illegal”.
Kelly Fuller, energy and mining campaign director at the Western Watershed Project, also told the Washington Post: “It seems that the oil companies are getting services from the Department of the Interior when the public is not.”
The BLM maintains that it has the authority to carry on having public hearings, despite the shutdown. “The Bureau continues to process permit applications as they are an exempted activity during a lapse in appropriations,” it told Reuters.
The Trump Administration is also trying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), long seen as the holy grail of the oil and gas lobby as well as for Trump himself.
E-mails obtained by Alaska Public Media show that on January 3, some two weeks after the shutdown, a BLM employee was “contacting Alaska community leaders to schedule meetings related to oil lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”.
When this was released into the public domain it caused a public outcry, with the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, a Democrat who strongly opposes to oil development in the Refuge, sending a letter to the Bureau.
In his letter, Grijalva wrote that: “Asking people to comment on two major development processes in the Arctic with huge potential environmental and human consequences without anyone in the agency able to answer questions defeats the purpose of the public participation process.”
He added that this “gives the strong impression that BLM is simply trying to check the boxes and end the comment periods as soon as possible, not engage in a meaningful dialogue with impacted communities or stakeholders.”
Since this letter, the BLM has now postponed public meetings on ANWR. Those hearings for opening up ANWR were meant to be held in eight cities and villages including Anchorage, Fairbanks and Washington D.C, according to Reuters.
Just before the shut-down, the BLM also released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for development of oil and gas resources in ANWR, which is required by law. This has drawn significant criticism from both indigenous and environmental groups.
Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee said: “The rush and fast pace that they are moving in only proves that they have no intention of addressing our concerns. Ninety-five percent of the Arctic is opened to oil and gas. Leave the remaining five percent alone.”
Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society added “Of all of the Trump administration’s conservation rollbacks, the drive to sell off one of America’s wildest places for dirty, high-risk oil-drilling ranks among the worst.”