D.C. Is Shut Down for the People — and Open for President Trump’s Corporate Cronies

The government is working just fine for the oil and gas industry.

Union members and IRS workers rallied against the federal government shutdown in Covington, Kentucky, on Jan. 10, 2019.
Union members and IRS workers rallied against the federal government shutdown in Covington, Kentucky, on Jan. 10, 2019. (John Minchillo / AP)

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This week, the heartbreaking struggles faced by out-of-work federal employees and the people who rely on them made headlines, amplifying the impacts of the government shutdown.

Furloughed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees are struggling to pay for child care. Families living near Superfund sites wonder if they’ll be safe from radioactive waste accidents as routine inspections have ceased. Drinking water samples that need to be checked for potentially toxic chemicals are sitting in refrigerators untested. And iconic Joshua trees — already threatened by the effects of climate change — have been felled by vandals seeking to take advantage of largely unstaffed national parks.

It would be wrong, however, to say that government isn’t working right now. The government isn’t working for people and communities, but it is working just fine for Trump’s corporate cronies in the oil and gas industry, the logging industry and big coal.

Several examples:

  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is still accepting permits to drill on our country’s treasured public lands, in total disregard of health and safety. Under Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, national parks remain open almost totally unstaffed, but the department continues to process drilling applications for treasured public lands in Alaska.
  • Our Forest Service is still giving big loggers free rein to clear-cut trees and exacerbate the worst effects of climate change. Review teams are already meeting on the Prince of Wales logging project — the largest logging project in the country in over 30 years.
  • The Trump administration is calling back furloughed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management employees to prepare documents necessary to auction off new areas of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing.
  • Many top EPA employees are being redirected to the questionable priority of officially elevating Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler — a former coal lobbyist who once represented Murray Energy, a coal company now attempting to gut EPA standards for mercury air toxics — to the top job he’s already performing.
  • On Thursday morning, the Regulations.gov website — a crucial online portal that empowers the public to exercise its constitutional rights and provide its views on regulatory attacks like those mentioned above — displayed an error message stating it was down due to a lapse in appropriations. In other words, shut down due to the shutdown. Big polluters’ favor factory, on the other hand, keeps running no matter what.
  • And the federal judiciary is short of funds, expecting to run out of money to sustain paid operations by January 25. After that date, individual courts — including President Trump’s record number of judicial appointees — will have broad discretion to determine staff availability and caseload. An underfunded and understaffed judiciary will make it even harder for the public to challenge the administration’s rush to aid polluters in the courts.

The federal government shutdown — which, as we must not forget, started over President Trump’s demand for an unnecessary, immoral, and costly border wall that would wreak havoc on border communities and ecosystems — speaks volumes about this president’s priorities. Helping the dirty energy industry and its megadonor CEOs who helped put him in power is a priority; the people are not.

It’s time for President Trump to accept that his wall isn’t getting built, and if he won’t, it’s time for Congress to come together, override his veto, and pass legislation to reopen the government free of poison pill attacks on our environment. Call on your legislators to end this shutdown as soon as possible.

Marty represents Earthjustice on Capitol Hill where he has played a key role since 1995 in blocking attempts to eliminate environmental protections for all National Forests and promoting more protection for pristine forest lands, such as Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and all roadless forests.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.