Members of the Democratic Majority on the House Natural Resources Committee held a forum Thursday to investigate the Trump administration’s “blatant favoritism” of the oil and gas sector over other priorities during the government shutdown.

On their Facebook page, Natural Resource Democrats touted the forum, writing, “even though the government has been shut down for over a month, [Department of] Interior has still found a way to continue approving oil and gas permits, plan for oil and gas lease sales and hold oil and gas public meetings.”

“This is not a question of supporting or opposing all energy development,” said U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) in his opening remarks. “It’s a question of what the administration has prioritized during the shutdown and what industries and businesses receive preferential treatment. At a time when the shutdown is exacting so much pain on Americans across all walks of life, it is utterly immoral that the Trump administration treats one group of friendly businesses, the fossil fuel industry, as more valuable and deserving than all others.”

Lowenthal criticized the fact that federal employees were struggling through the shutdown without paychecks while the oil and gas industry has remained, what he characterized as, unscathed. He said it did not surprise him given the deregulatory push over the past two years, with decisions that have benefited industry at the expense of public health and the environment.

The event, held as a “forum” instead of a committee hearing, appeared to lead to some confusion as to whether Republican members were notified or even invited.

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a member of the committee, Tweeted in defense of the Interior Department during the forum, referring to Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. “@DOIDepSec is ensuring tens of thousands of people have the opportunity to visit national parks and national wildlife refuges while we keep them maintained, clean, and safe,” Gosar wrote.

“Just because the government is shut down doesn’t mean private-sector economic activity grinds to a halt,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance. “Prior-approved production of oil and natural gas on non-park, non-wilderness public lands continues to provide Americans with the energy they need to heat their homes, get to school and work, and keep the lights on.

Western Wire is project of Western Energy Alliance.

Sgamma said that Bureau of Land Management must retain “essential” staff that include employees who oversee oil and gas production in order to ensure that operations protect the environment and the safety of workers.

“As is proper during similar shutdowns in the past, agencies designate essential employees who continue to work. BLM has likewise maintained a similar skeleton staff in the state and field offices to ensure that ongoing operations continue in a safe manner that is protective of the environment,” Sgamma said. “The primary focus of essential BLM staff during this shutdown is to react to changing circumstances in the field. Oil and natural gas production is a dynamic process. Circumstances can arise in the field that require BLM approval. Essential staff must be available to ensure operations remain safe and the environment protected.”

“BLM essential employees supporting oil and natural gas during this shutdown are funded by the oil and natural gas industry through permitting fees and ultimately, the royalty revenue that is generated on public lands,” she added.

An Interior employee told E&E News that the notion that the entire department is shuttered as portrayed by the witnesses and Democratic members wasn’t accurate.

“For example, 183 [Bureau of Indian Education] schools have remained open and fully operational, meaning approximately 42,000 children are still receiving an education. On top of that, we ensured approximately 36,000 retired miners would receive their health insurance benefits through the United Mine Workers of America on time,” the spokesperson wrote.

A Tweet from @WesternCaucus during the forum echoed the same sentiment. “To claim that @interior is only working on gas and oil permit processing is the fakest of fake news. Currently, 183 Bureau of Indian Education schools remain open and fully operational with approx. 42,000 students attending. Nice try guys.”