POLITICS
10/09/2013 06:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2013

National Parks Should Close To Oil And Gas Drilling While Shutdown Blocks Public, Petition Says

AP

WASHINGTON -- A progressive activist group's online petition seeks to stop oil and gas drilling in national parks while the areas are closed to the public during the government shutdown.

The petition, from CREDO’s Mobilize project, had more than 75,000 signatures as of Wednesday. The petition decries preferential treatment that allows oil and gas extraction companies to continue working in national parks while the general public is barred during Washington's budget impasse.

"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," the petition reads. "We need to get our priorities straight.

"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 says.

The group said it plans to deliver the petition to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack later this week.

On average, 715,000 people visit national parks daily, when they are open.

At least one member of Congress is on CREDO’s side. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) last week sent a letter to Jewel and Vilsack, urging them to block drilling on federal lands until federal employees and visitors are allowed back. Grijalva is the ranking minority member of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

"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," Grijalva wrote.

Environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, also have argued that drilling should stop during the shutdown. "It's disappointing that the public is shut out from national parks, but oil companies get to drill in them," Alex Taurel, the group's deputy legislative director, told Environment & Energy Publishing. "We don't think that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people."

Oil and gas companies in national parks operate under agreements that allow drillers to work during a shutdown, according to Environment & Energy Publishing. In many cases, industry-controlled land was grandfathered into parks' creation.

Steve Everley, spokesman for the trade group Energy In Depth, said the petition is nothing new.

"I think you have a bunch of people and groups opposed to oil and gas development, even when the government is open," Everley said. "It's trying to capitalize on opportunity, as opposed to a legitimate policy change."

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