The Bureau of Land Management is confirming that federal employees are back at work and getting paid to process drilling permits. Conservation groups are pushing back.
Taylor McKinnon works for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups asking the BLM to hit the brakes on new energy development during the shutdown.
"With resource specialists furloughed—wildlife biologists, archaeologists, soil scientists—the BLM doesn't have the people in place right now to ensure anything that it approves wouldn't do a lot of environmental harm," he said.
The public has also been shut out of the process, said McKinnon, since during the shutdown there is no way to submit public comment.
"If anyone from the public tries to contact the BLM right now and ask about an oil and gas lease sale or a fracking permit that may be near their community, they're going to get the answering machine," said McKinnon.
He added that this violates laws that require public participation, like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land and Policy Management Act.
In an email, a BLM spokesperson confirmed that, "employees can be called back on a case-by-case basis as determined by the state directors and subject to available funding." Right now, hundreds of thousands of other federal workers from TSA agents to food safety inspectors to the Coast Guard are currently furloughed or working without pay.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.