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Interior Unveils Plan to Move BLM Headquarters to Colorado (1)

July 16, 2019, 8:45 PMUpdated: July 16, 2019, 10:08 PM

The Bureau of Land Management will move its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., as part of a realignment, relocating about 80 percent of its Washington personnel closer to the public lands and natural resources they manage, the agency announced July 16.

Joe Balash, assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management, said 249 of the 310 headquarters employees will be relocated from Washington—27 to a new office in Grand Junction and 222 to existing BLM offices in various Western states.

The rest will remain in the nation’s capital to deal with matters involving the agency’s budget, congressional and regulatory affairs, and Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Most of the work gets done at the state and local level,” he said. “We’ve been pushing more of the decision making down to the state offices.”

The relocation is expected to be completed in the next 15 months, he said.

The BLM, an Interior agency, manages one out of every 10 acres of land in the U.S. and about 30 percent of the nation’s mineral resources such as oil and natural gas. The move will serve the American people more efficiently while advancing the bureau’s multiple-use mission, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

The decision came after congressional, state, and local officials in Colorado lobbied for three years to get the BLM headquarters relocated from Washington to the Centennial State. Under the proposal, every Western state will receive additional personnel, said Bernhardt, who in announcing the re-alignment, was finishing a project started by his predecessor, Ryan Zinke.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), and other elected officials celebrated the announcement, which came on the 73rd anniversary of the bureau’s establishment in 1946.

Congress Might Challenge

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Congress might challenge the decision.

“I don’t believe that authority exists with the secretary or with the administration,” said Grijalva, the House Natural Resources Committee chairman.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the panel’s top Republican, said that he hoped Congress didn’t “play partisan, dogmatic games” that would hamper the headquarters move.

“There’s no BLM land out here, anything that you can actually spit on,” Bishop said at the U.S. Capitol. “So moving it out there and moving the offices out there and looking also at what they do in BLM and saying where in the West would it be most effective to do that, I think that’s positive.”

Criteria for the new location included the availability of affordable housing for staffers, said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“So I think they really did look at so many of the parameters that are up for consideration when you’re talking about moving people,” she said.

The largest city in Western Colorado, Grand Junction is the 17th largest in the state, with a population of 63,400, according to 2018 U.S. Census estimates.

34 Percent Cheaper

The cost of living in Grand Junction is 34 percent less than that of the Washington area, according to bankrate.com.

The bureau does a disservice “when we’re not there to answer on the spot,” said Susan Combs, assistant Interior secretary for policy, management, and budget.

“The public will be glad they can go to the individual decision maker without have to travel to the East Coast,” she said. “Government is best when it’s close to the people.”

Grand Junction sits about 30 miles east of the Utah state line near several BLM and U.S. Forest Service public lands and wilderness areas. The 20,500-acre Colorado National Monument runs along its southwestern edge, and its major industries include agriculture, oil and gas, and tourism—including wineries, mountain biking, and hiking.

The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group based in Denver, said the realignment was less of a relocation and more an attempt to dismantle the BLM headquarters altogether.

“It’s yet another cynical attempt to drain the Interior Department of expertise and career leadership,” it said.

—With assistance from Bobby Magill and Tiffany Stecker.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com