Americans are being cited for entering national parks during the government shutdown and ordered to appear in federal court. But drilling and logging companies are meeting no obstacles when they continue doing business on supposedly shuttered public lands.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, thinks that’s pretty unreasonable. Last week he complained about the disparity in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell:
Despite the federal government shutdown making national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and many other important sites unavailable to the public, oil and gas drilling and other extraction activities continue on our federal public lands. The lack of oversight of these potentially hazardous activities greatly concerns me, especially because of the scarcity of manpower to respond to emergencies, pollution issues or other rapid response needs.
I am equally concerned about the many businesses that rely on our public lands. Concessionaires that operate facilities within our public parks and other federal lands have been locked out by the shutdown. So have river and trail guides who rely on public lands and waterways to make a living. Small businesses cannot afford to be cut off from their main — in some cases sole — source of income.
And now the congressman has launched an online petition calling for greater equity in how the government treats different kinds of visitors to federal lands:
Our federal lands are being mined, drilled, logged and just about everything else you can name — but because of the Republicans’ reckless and irresponsible shutdown of the federal government, we can’t be there to hike or camp, and our park rangers can’t be there to respond to emergencies. We need to get our priorities straight.
In Utah, at least, hikers will soon be able to get back on the trail. The state has agreed to pay the federal government $1.67 million to cover the costs of reopening five national parks within its borders for 10 days, starting on Saturday. State officials were worried about losing millions in tourist dollars.