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Scott Streater, E&E reporter

A national environmental group says it will file a legal complaint against the Obama administration if it allows oil and gas drilling, mining and logging activity on public lands during the ongoing federal government shutdown.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent a two-page letter today to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell calling on her to ban drilling, mining and logging on public lands, saying allowing such activity to continue during the shutdown violates a suite of federal laws.

If Jewell does not, or if the shutdown does not soon end, the group plans to seek a federal court order “to stop these lawless extractive activities on our public’s lands,” wrote William Snape, CBD’s senior counsel, in the letter to Jewell.

“We recognize that federal agencies have been put in a difficult position with the shutdown, and we are looking forward to the government reopening,” Snape wrote. “However, it is contradictory and illegal to restrict public access to public lands such as the National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Offshore Areas, and Bureau of Land Management lands, while allowing environmentally degrading private activities to occur on those same lands.”

Among other laws, Interior is violating the Anti-Deficiency Act if it is continuing to process and approve these types of activities during the ongoing shutdown, Snape wrote. The law, first approved by Congress in 1884, essentially states that the federal government cannot spend or authorize money that has not been appropriated to it by Congress, Snape said.

“Even if some of these activities are allegedly exempted ‘essential’ or otherwise under various Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance, we don’t see how they can lawfully continue absent full staff to ensure robust compliance with safety and environmental laws, including those in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), National Park Refuge Act (and related laws), the National Wildlife Refuge Act, and others,” Snape wrote.

Blake Androff, an Interior spokesman, said the department had not yet received Snape’s letter. “We will review the letter once it is received,” he said.

But Celia Boddington, a BLM spokeswoman, said in an email that the agency “is not processing any onshore oil and gas permits during the shutdown.”

As for logging, Boddington said that last week, BLM “directed an orderly suspension and shutdown of active operations on some timber sale contracts, including stewardship contracts and agreements.”

The American Petroleum Institute scoffed at the notion of shutting down all oil and gas development on federal lands.

“Shutting down energy development would cut off a lifeline that continues to deliver millions in revenue a day to the government during the shutdown,” said Carlton Carroll, an API spokesman. “These are much-needed funds that will help keep essential services running.”

Still, BLM last week postponed a planned oil and gas lease sale scheduled to take place this week in New Mexico because of the government shutdown (Greenwire, Oct. 9).

“It’s absurd that while everyday Americans are locked out during the shutdown, it’s business as usual for those reaping a profit from our public lands,” Snape said today in a statement. “These damaging drilling, clearcutting and mining actions must stop as long as the federal government remains shuttered.”