Trump administration presses ahead with Alaskan drilling plan despite shutdown

The Trump administration will press forward with key steps toward opening more areas in northern Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling despite the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which, along with multiple other agencies in the federal government is mostly shut down due to a Dec. 22 funding lapse, said it is moving ahead with hosting four meetings over the next week in northern Alaska towns on the plan’s environmental review process.

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Elsewhere in Interior, trash is building up at national parks and wildlife refuges are closed, among other shutdown impacts.

The meetings are a legally required step toward a new management plan that would open areas that the Obama administration had closed off to drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 22-million-acre tract in the northwestern part of the state.

A BLM spokeswoman said the agency must hold the meetings before the Jan. 22 closing of the public comment period. She said BLM is allowed to use funds from fiscal year 2018 — which ended Sept. 30 — for the environmental review scoping process.

“This money will be used for labor and operations for staff and contractors involved. Work may continue on these projects as long as appropriated funds remain,” the spokeswoman said.

Other BLM operations, include the agency’s Alaska office, are shut down with staff furloughed.

E&E News first reported on the meetings not being canceled.

Conservation groups slammed the effort to open more places to drilling when the Trump administration unveiled it in November, saying it threatens wildlife and important ecosystems.

“Gutting the NPR-A’s land management plan, as we anticipate this administration will do, is outrageous and a complete waste of taxpayer money and agency resources. Nearly 27 million acres of Arctic Alaska are already available to the oil and gas industry,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement on the plan.

“This is just another example of this administration’s shortsightedness and desire to sell off America’s public lands to oil companies.”