Offshore drilling permits still issued, but shutdown slows work at EPA

Renewable energy activities are the first on a list of programs halted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Continued permitting for offshore drilling comes amid the closure of the EPA.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Permitting for offshore drilling will continue amid a government shutdown that has stopped or seriously slowed many other government services since Congress failed to pass budget resolution late Monday night.

By contrast, the interruption of federal financing has “disrupted” the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts “to protect people’s health and the environment,” an EPA spokesperson told Al Jazeera Tuesday.

The shutdown has indefinitely delayed cleanup activities at 505 hazardous waste sites in 47 states, the agency said. But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will continue to back all permit-related activities.

Renewable energy activities are the first on a list of programs that BOEM suspended in the government shutdown, according to a statement sent to Al Jazeera from the Department of the Interior’s new email address created expressly for the budget impasse: doi_shutdown@ios.doi.gov.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Robert Gardner told Al Jazeera the government is "playing Russian roulette with out safety" by continuing to issue the permits while the EPA remains debilitated.

“The keys to the castle are being handed to the [oil and gas] industry. Our national priorities are completely out of line,” Gardner said, “The House has been trying to defund the EPA and take away its authority to regulate" the energy industry.

Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resource Defense Counsel, said “the argument could be made that the permitting should be stopped,” he reminded that “Congress doesn’t fund anyone after October 1st.

“Most agencies do have money that they hold over for the next year. They may have done that at the Department of the Interior,” Slesinger said.

Slesinger said that in the event of a government shutdown, if BOEM did not oversee offshore drilling permits, private industry might continue drilling at their own risk.

“They can’t tell offshore oil and gas drillers you can’t work, because I can’t oversee you,” he said.

“If I was the Secretary of Interior, that might be the choice I would make,” Slesinger said.

For Gardner, the two new features of a government grappling with fiscal crisis were more alarming.

“To take basically the watchdog off the job not only says something about our national priorities but is functionally dangerous for folks that live near these sites,” he said.

Al Jazeera

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