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A Democratic member of Congress is using the government shutdown to pressure the Department of the Interior to prohibit oil and gas exploration on federal land.
Energy companies should not be able to use federal lands if those lands are closed to hikers and campers, according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Grijalva started an online petition to demand that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “stop mining [on] public lands while visitors are locked out.”
“Fossil fuel and logging companies shouldn't have special access to our federal lands while rangers, hikers and the rest of us are locked out,” the petition states.
Grijalva is the ranking Democratic member of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. That panel oversees 600 million acres of federal land.
He sent a letter to Jewell and Vilsack last week urging them to halt fossil fuel extraction on federal land “until visitors can return.”
“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,” he wrote.
Industry groups say Grijalva is using the government shutdown as an excuse to accomplish an eventual goal of completely ending fossil fuel extraction of federal land.
“The same groups pushing for bans during the government shutdown have also pushed for bans when the government was up and running, so I think this might be more about capitalizing on opportunity than recommending substantive energy policy changes,” said Steve Everley, spokesman for the site Energy In Depth, which is run by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in an emailed statement.
Grijalva has used previous budget battles to attempt to levy additional fees on the fossil fuel industry.
He and Rep. Tom Udall (D., Colo.) pushed efforts during the “fiscal cliff” fight of 2012 to impose a 12.5 percent tax on miners who profited from extraction activities on federal land.
Those fees would impose additional costs on a number of companies that gave money to the campaign of Grijalva’s Republican opponent in his 2012 reelection battle.
Grijalva’s office did not return a request for comment.