Cathy Frye didn’t almost die in the Texas desert as a direct result of the government shutdown — but the fact that Big Bend National Park, where she and her husband usually go for their anniversary hike, was closed led to a series of unfortunate events which almost cost Frye her life. The couple wandered unfamiliar trails for almost five days after attempting a hike outside the national park and Frye is still in the hospital after a dramatic rescue, being treated for dehydration, severe sunburn and other injuries resulting from her ordeal.
Across the nation, outdoor adventurers, casual Sunday picnickers, and every other American citizen are currently barred from so-called “public lands” as the government shutdown drags on.
One group not affected is drilling and mining corporations who are free to continue extraction of coal, oil and natural gas, even as the people who technically own these lands are unable to access them.
Last week, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, sent a letter to Secretary Sally Jewell and Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to halt all extractive activities on federal lands until employees and visitors had equal access. Rep. Grijalva is the ranking Democratic member of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and his letter warned of the potential environmental consequences of less oversight and manpower on the ground, and pointed out the gross unfairness of large mining and drilling companies continuing business-as-usual, while small businesses which depend on park visitors suffer heavy losses.
“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,” said Rep. Grijalva in a statement.
Now, CREDOMobilize.com has launched an online petition in support of Rep Grijalva’s protest. The petition, launched Monday morning, already has over 62,000 signatures out of an original goal of 75,000 signatures, and is scheduled to be sent to Sec. Jewell and Sec. Vilsack at the end of the week.
“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,” states the petition.
81 percent of the staff at the Department of Interior are currently furloughed, so it is unclear if the agency could implement such halt — and because these companies have signed legal contracts to mine and drill these lands, any move to stop them from doing so would assuredly be challenged in court.
House Republicans have attempted to hand out favors to the mining industry by giving sweetheart deals on mineral rights while exempting them from environmental laws. While the shutdown began, Republicans in a House committee worked on a bill that would sell millions of acres of public lands to the highest bidder.
Rep. Grijalva has been criticized by conservative media for “using the government shutdown to pressure the Department of the Interior to prohibit oil and gas exploration on federal land.” During the “fiscal cliff” fight of 2012, Rep. Grijalva advocated a 12.5 percent tax on miners who profited from extraction activities on federal land. Since 1872, mining companies have paid no royalties on minerals they extract from taxpayer-owned public lands.
CREDO has long opposed fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Earlier petitions to ban fracking on public lands and end the federal coal leasing program garnered over 123,000 and 86,000 signatures, respectively. According to the petition, CREDO considers the current situation an especially egregious example of a long-standing problem — public lands being used for private profit, not for the benefit of the American public who owns them.