Dems ask Interior to stop offshore drilling work during shutdown

Dems ask Interior to stop offshore drilling work during shutdown
© Greg Nash

Top House Democrats are asking the Trump administration to reverse its decision to bring dozens of furloughed employees back to open more areas for offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) joined House Appropriations Committee subpanel on Interior Chairwoman Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumDeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief Trump impeachment calls snowball, putting pressure on Pelosi Leave park operations — and fee revenues — to the parks MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalDemocrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020 House leaves for six-week August recess House passes bill opposing BDS, exposing divide among Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) in slamming the decision by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

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“This is an outrageous step, and the justifications provided in the BOEM contingency plan — that the employees are needed ‘to comply with the Administration’s America First energy strategy,’ and that ‘failure to hold these [offshore] sales would have a great negative impact on the Treasury and negatively impact investment in the U.S. Offshore Gulf of Mexico’ — are farcical and make it clear that the administration cares only about the impacts on its favorite industry and not about workers, their families, and ordinary Americans,” the Democrats wrote Wednesday to acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

They asked Bernhardt to “reverse the actions immediately,” or give them a detailed briefing on how it complies with the law.

Grijalva told reporters Wednesday that the legality of the move isn’t his main concern.

“It’s just ironic that energy extraction, during this shutdown, is something that is being spared,” he said.

“Everything else [is affected], from Native American clinics to our parks to people working without pay, but this continues unabated. I think it’s very much a demonstration of where the priorities are at Interior.”

He said he is likely to bring Bernhardt to his committee for a hearing on the matter, but that would be after the shutdown ends. Grijalva has also questioned whether Interior has followed the law when it brought back from furlough workers to approve onshore drilling permits and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, among other actions.

The National Ocean Industries Association applauded the Trump administration’s action Wednesday, particularly as it related to preparing for upcoming drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

“While much of the work for the upcoming March sale in the Gulf of Mexico has already been completed, there are still t’s to be crossed and i’s to be dotted to ensure the public and the industry are properly notified,” Randall Luthi, the group’s president, said in a statement.

“It makes both economic and energy sense to continue work on this long-planned and approved sale.”