Gardner to BLM: Go west
Agency should be based in GJ, senator says
If U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has his way, top-level decisions by a major federal public lands agency would no longer be made in Washington, D.C.
Rather, they’d emanate from right here in Grand Junction, which also could see hundreds of new jobs should the Colorado Republican manage to persuade Congress to move the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters to town.
“I think it makes perfect sense to have the BLM headquartered in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is nearby other BLM-centric states, whether that’s Utah, Wyoming, states to the south and farther west,” Gardner said in an interview with The Daily Sentinel, expanding on an idea he has brought up publicly several times in recent weeks.
The thrust of Gardner’s pitch is that the more than 99 percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land the BLM manages is west of the Mississippi River.
“That is a heck of a long ways away from Washington, D.C., a heck of a long ways away from the policymakers who are impacting the lives of Westerners daily. And that’s why I think we should move the headquarters of BLM to the West, where BLM land isn’t a thousand miles away but it’s in the backyard.”
Gardner has broached the idea at a Colorado Water Congress meeting in Denver, at the Senate nomination hearing for since-confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and on the Senate floor before a Senate majority, including Gardner, voted to repeal new BLM planning rules.
The idea of moving the headquarters to Colorado won support from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, according to video of comments he made during a panel discussion organized by the Colorado Petroleum Council and American Petroleum Institute. The website http://www.westernwire.net, a news and commentary endeavor of the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas association, posted the video clip in which Hickenlooper talks about the idea of bringing the headquarters here in the state.
“We should go get ‘em,” Hickenlooper said to some laughter and applause.
He said one benefit would be more trust between the agency, regulated industries and local communities if everyone knows who is doing the regulating and what their regulatory process is.
Westernwire.net reported that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also voiced support for the idea.
Presumably Hancock would like to have Denver considered as a home to the agency. But Gardner was clear in his interview with the Sentinel that his comments about Grand Junction as a location for the headquarters aren’t an offhand example of a possible Colorado location. Grand Junction is where he thinks the national offices belong.
“I would love to see it in Grand Junction,” he said, citing the city’s accessibility via its airport and Interstate 70, and location in what he said is the heart of BLM country.
He recognized that others supportive of a BLM move might want to see the national office moved to some other Western state, including Montana, Zinke’s home state.
“But bottom line is I think we in the West can agree, whether it’s Grand Junction or anywhere in the West, we can have better policy as a result” of moving the office, he said.
Gardner said he thinks moving the headquarters would require legislation, and he hasn’t introduced a bill yet. He said he’s talked to a number of colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee and everyone agrees that the less power a bureaucrat in Washington has over BLM land, and the closer decision-making is to that land, the better.
“Washington, D.C., is a company town and it would be nice to break it up a little bit,” he said.
He’s spoken privately to Zinke about the idea of moving the headquarters and brought it up during Zinke’s confirmation hearing. The BLM is part of the Interior Department.
During the confirmation hearing, Gardner asked Zinke about the idea of putting portions of the federal workforce closer to the lands they manage. Zinke said he thinks agency workers should be close to those lands, and there are different approaches for doing that.
“I think the bottom line is the decisions oftentimes are better at the front line if you empower your people to do them,” Zinke said.
Drawing on his military background, he cited the military philosophy of centralizing direction and decentralizing execution. Pressed by Gardner about whether Zinke would work with him to move headquarters of agencies like the BLM to the West, Zinke said, “I’m committed to look at our organization across the board, what we’re going to look like as a department 100 years from now.”
A western move of the headquarters could bring hundreds of jobs with it. BLM spokesperson Kimberly Brubeck said 388 employees are based in Washington. Fifty of those, however, aren’t directly involved in national-level work, but are posted to the BLM’s Eastern States Office, which manages BLM lands and resources east of the Mississippi.
The BLM has more than 9,600 employees nationwide.
Gardner said some employees, such as certain members of the legal team, would need to remain in the capital if the headquarters were moved, but most positions could be moved if the offices were relocated.
“I think the result of it would be thousands of jobs” in Grand Junction, said Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis.
The former congressman said that’s because of lobbying, staff-support and other positions that would result. In addition, temporary jobs would be created to build the office space, he said.
He said Grand Junction would be perfect for the headquarters.
“We’ve got an airport that would handle it,” he said.
He called Grand Junction “right in the center of where it should be.” But he said other states would likely say there should be some kind of bidding process for such a facility. And he warned from personal experience about the difficulties of trying to make such a relocation happen.
He said that back in the 1980s, when he was new member of the state House of Representatives, there was an effort to get what was then the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s headquarters relocated to Grand Junction.
“And man, we ran into a bureaucratic wall you couldn’t even blast your way through,” he said.
One obstacle was the desire of other communities to be home to the new headquarters, he said.
Today, the main office for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which includes the former Division of Wildlife, remains in Denver.
McInnis predicted that the complications would be far greater for any effort to get the BLM offices moved from the nation’s capital. But he said the county would help Gardner all it could with trying to bring the offices to town.
Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law and a former Interior Department staffer who was an adviser to then-Secretary Bruce Babbitt, said he’s not a fan of a western move of the BLM headquarters.
“I think it would really diminish the importance within the Department of Interior of the BLM,” Squillace said.
He also believes it would further politicize what’s already a politicized agency.
Gardner’s idea springs from some of the same concerns he had about the new BLM planning rule. The House as well as the Senate have voted to revoke it and President Trump is expected to sign off on rescinding it. While the BLM had said the rule was designed to increase public input in the planning process, Gardner said someone living in a place like New York City shouldn’t have more say about what happens on BLM lands in western Colorado than county commissioners living among those lands.
He said that when it comes to public land management, the voices of commissioners, land users and recreationists need to be heard.
“I think this (headquarters move) would give those nearest the land the best opportunity for that voice to be heard,” he said.