January 23, 2019

Cardin, Colleagues Slam Trump Admin for Putting Big Oil Interests ahead of Federal Workers

Interior Dept. plans to expand offshore drilling, fast-track enviro reviews while workers shutout, critical work at standstill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, today joined his colleagues in decrying the Trump Administration’s recent move to put the interests of giant, billion-dollar oil and gas companies ahead of struggling federal workers who are not getting paid and continue to be held hostage by the Trump Shutdown. The senators demanded answers after the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) decided to use its limited available funding to advance a number of special projects for the oil industry, rather than support the affected workers, prioritize safety or protect the environment.

Specifically, the Trump Administration decided to take further steps towards expanding offshore drilling by continuing work on the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS program) and related environmental review, the Atlantic Geological and Geophysical Environmental Assessment and related permitting work, and on the upcoming Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling lease sales. 

“We urge you to reverse the decision to continue this work and to direct any funds available to BOEM toward critical bureau functions that have been hampered under the ongoing government shutdown, rather than toward actions that directly benefit the oil industry,” the lawmakers wrote to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank.  “We remain strongly opposed to any efforts to further develop an American offshore oil and gas industry, which would threaten our economy and environment. But we are particularly concerned regarding the process that resulted in allowing these activities to occur during the partial government shutdown, which has left 800,000 federal employees unpaid.”  

The senators demanded to know the names of oil industry leaders with whom the Administration has been in contact, the legal basis for re-categorizing offshore drilling efforts as “essential” under a partial government shutdown, and where Interior is finding the money to continue these efforts since funding for the department has not been appropriated.

“While the oil industry might view a delay in the approval of new offshore drilling as an emergency, the American people deserve regulators who prioritize safety and environmental protection over political expediency and the wishes of moneyed special interests,” the letter continued.  “The Trump shutdown demonstrates the President’s profound lack of commitment to the federal workforce and disregard for a well-functioning democracy. The modification of BOEM’s contingency plan shows an unfailing commitment to carrying out the agenda of the oil industry at the expense of coastal communities.” 

Senator Cardin has led the fight to ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, which puts at risk the environment and economy of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

In addition to Senator Cardin, the letter was cosigned by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here.

January 23, 2019

The Honorable David Bernhardt

Acting Secretary

Department of the Interior

1849 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dr. Walter Cruickshank

Acting Director

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

1849 C Street, NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Acting Secretary Bernhardt and Acting Director Cruickshank:

We write to express our strong concerns regarding the recent decision of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to revise its contingency plan in the midst of the Trump shutdown to promote offshore oil and gas development. We urge you to reverse the decision to continue this work and to direct any funds available to BOEM toward critical bureau functions that have been hampered under the ongoing government shutdown, rather than toward actions that directly benefit the oil industry. 

We oppose the decision to continue work on the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS program) during the shutdown. In January of 2017, BOEM finalized a 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program . The program was the result of a thorough, multi-year process that carefully weighed the substantial risks of offshore drilling, and continued commonsense protections for the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Arctic, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The current Administration’s decision to replace the five-year plan after just six months  showed a particular determination to waste taxpayer dollars at the behest of the oil industry—to continue pursuing these efforts even during a lapse in BOEM’s budget is unacceptable.  

Activities related to the program are clearly non-essential and were excluded from BOEM’s December 2018 shutdown contingency plan, which retained only about 15% of BOEM’s workforce (90% of whom were on an “on-call basis”) to conduct the key functions of administrative services, emergency response, and support for Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement permitting operations.  A subsequent contingency plan released January 8, 2019, however, included 40 additional BOEM employees to be available on an “on-call basis” to prepare decision documents related to the National OCS program, including: developing the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS); completing environmental assessments; conducting work related to processing Atlantic Geophysical and Geological permits; and publishing notices of sale for lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the contingency plan, these individuals will be paid via “carryover,” defined as compensation financed by a resource other than annual appropriations. 

We remain strongly opposed to any efforts to further develop an American offshore oil and gas industry, which would threaten our economy and environment. But we are particularly concerned regarding the process that resulted in allowing these activities to occur during the partial government shutdown, which has left 800,000 federal employees unpaid. While the oil industry might view a delay in the approval of new offshore drilling as an emergency, the American people deserve regulators who prioritize safety and environmental protection over political expediency and the wishes of moneyed special interests. 

BOEM was created in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, when it was clear that its predecessor agency was beholden to the very oil industry it was charged with overseeing.  The decision to prioritize the oil industry’s wish list during the government shutdown makes clear that this Administration has allowed those same problems to take root again.  The newfound characterization of these projects as essential paints a troubling picture of an agency dedicated to mitigating the consequences of the shutdown for a powerful and well-connected corporate lobby at the expense of the American people.  Given these concerns, we ask that you provide responses in writing to the following questions no later than Friday, February 1, 2019:

1)    In the OCS contingency plan published in December 2018, employees engaged in the National OCS program are furloughed. In the BOEM contingency plan published on January 8, 2018, the plan was updated to allow 40 employees to work on the five-year leasing program. Clearly these activities were not initially seen as essential activities. What prompted the change?

2)    Did anyone in the Trump administration discuss continuing work on the National OCS program during a shutdown with any representative of the oil and gas industry?  Please provide the names of any oil and gas companies, interests, or industry groups that communicated with the Administration to discuss the Department or BOEM’s contingency plans regarding offshore oil and gas activities during the shutdown, including via email, phone calls, meetings, or other communications.

3)    On what legal basis did the Administration rely to change its treatment of offshore oil and gas activities in the BOEM January 2019 contingency plan as compared to its December 2018 contingency plan, given the constraints of the Antideficiency Act and appropriations law?  If BOEM did not feel that these activities were legally permissible under the December 2018 plan, on what basis did they become legally permissible in the January 2019 plan?

4)    In the Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, Congress provided $171,000,000 for BOEM in Fiscal Year 2018, and included full funding for the five-year offshore leasing program through regular appropriations.  At this time, what specific accounts, subaccounts, and programs are the Department or BOEM relying on to fund the continuation of the above-referenced offshore oil and gas activities?  Were these funds being used for other activities under the BOEM December 2018 contingency plan following the start of the government shutdown, and if so, what were those activities?  Were these funds being used for other activities under the normal operations of the government prior to the shutdown on December 22, 2018, and if so, what were those activities?

5)    Are BOEM’s essential functions of 1) emergency response and 2) support for Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement permitting operations short-staffed during the ongoing shutdown? If so, could the carryover funds used to support the 40 on-call employees working on the National OCS program have otherwise been used to support these shorthanded essential functions?

6)    While it is our understanding that the essential functions mentioned in Question 5 are still ongoing in some capacity during the shutdown, is BOEM support for Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement related to the Environmental Compliance Monitoring program ongoing as well? If so, has the scope of these activities, which include monitoring for compliance with the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, been at all curtailed during the shutdown, and to what extent? Please include any reductions in personnel, inspections, or other relevant metrics.

7)    The BOEM contingency plan from December 2018 lists 8 excepted employees and 550 employees on furlough in the event of a shutdown; these add up to the 558 full time employees at BOEM. However, the BOEM contingency plan from January 2019 lists 84 excepted employees and 558 employees on furlough in the event of a shutdown; which does not add up to the 558 full time employees at BOEM. What is the reason for this discrepancy?

The Trump shutdown demonstrates the President’s profound lack of commitment to the federal workforce and disregard for a well-functioning democracy. The modification of BOEM’s contingency plan shows an unfailing commitment to carrying out the agenda of the oil industry at the expense of coastal communities. In addition to providing prompt responses to the questions above, we urge you to rethink these decisions and to revise BOEM’s contingency plan accordingly.

Sincerely,

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