WASHINGTON — The federal government’s reopening on Thursday cut-off legal action that environmentalists were pursuing to force the closure of all oil and gas drilling, logging and mining on public lands.
The Center for Biological Diversity served notice earlier this week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that allowing the operations in Colorado and across the U.S. to continue violated the Anti-Deficiency Act and that a lawsuit would follow unless she ordered all closures.
“A rabid group of House Republicans may be causing this shutdown, but the Obama administration needs to get its priorities straight,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center. “Big oil should not have access to the public lands that are closed to the American people.”
The center argued that if the shutdown prevented the protection of endangered species or its ability to provide other environmental services, it should not be allowed to process permits for natural resource development on public lands.
“We can’t hike, camp or enjoy our nation’s public parks and monuments. But grazing, mining, logging, and oil and gas extraction continue in many cases without disruption even though the shutdown has sent home many who enforce regulations designed to protect our lands and wildlife,” the center said in a letter to Jewell.
The threats came as oil prices rose $1.55 and was trading at nearly $103 on the New York Mercantile Exchange Wednesday in anticipation that the government would default on its debt.
Nearly 80 percent of the Interior Department’s workforce was furloughed, while the National Park Service closed all of its properties including some parks it did not own.
Nearly 350,000 of the federal government’s millions of employees were told to stay home during the federal shutdown.
“It’s absurd that while everyday Americans are locked out during the shutdown, it’s business as usual for those reaping a profit from our public lands,” Snape said.
“These damaging drilling, clear-cutting and mining actions must stop as long as the federal government remains shuttered,” Snape said.
The National Park Service’s actions were criticized by Republican lawmakers who said the over-zealous behavior was politicized and designed to inflict as much pain as possible on visitors who were barricaded from entering the public lands.