Gardner: ‘Western food fight’ possible over moving BLM headquarters
A “Western food fight” could break out over exactly where the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters should be located if U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner succeeds in his push to get the office moved out West, he concedes.
But the Republican from Colorado told The Daily Sentinel in an interview that he still thinks Grand Junction is well positioned to compete for the office if legislation he introduced this week becomes law.
For months, Gardner has been pushing the idea of moving the BLM’s headquarters from Washington to the West. Ninety-nine percent of the land the agency manages is located in the West, and Gardner believes national-level BLM decision-makers should be located near the lands and people their decisions affect.
Specifically, he is backing a move to Grand Junction because of factors such as the city’s relatively easy access by air and Interstate 70, and proximity to a large amount of BLM land. Such a move would transfer hundreds of jobs to the city chosen for the headquarters.
The bill Gardner introduced this week calls for the Interior secretary to develop a strategy to move the headquarters to the West “in a manner that will save the maximum amount of taxpayer money practicable.” The strategy would have to include things such as metrics for choosing a location and a timeline.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., is pushing a companion House bill.
Gardner’s bill doesn’t specifically call for the national office to be moved to Grand Junction.
“I’m sure we couldn’t get sponsors … if we cherry-picked Grand Junction right away,” he explained with a laugh.
Gardner has gotten what he called a “great group” of Senate bill sponsors from a number of Western states, with the sponsorship list growing. But he acknowledged that those senators may have an interest in seeing the headquarters moved to their home states. And he’s previously noted that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, of Montana, might want to see it moved there.
So if the measure passes, “this will be a bit of a — I think I’ve said it before — a bit of a Western food fight (to land the office). But I think Colorado comes up pretty good in this,” he said.
He said the measure would set in place a process that “obviously highlights Grand Junction’s value as a location.”
“… When you look at a place like Grand Junction, I think according to the metrics for affordability, it’s going to do very well,” he said.
He added that while things could change, he hasn’t heard from Coloradans elsewhere in the state arguing that the BLM office should be located elsewhere in Colorado rather than Grand Junction. But he said he is hearing tremendous support from a growing number of counties, businesses, chambers of commerce and others for the idea of moving BLM leadership out of Washington.
“I think there’s a great rallying cry right now as people want these land managers to be in their neighborhood,” he said.
He said he’s also heard support from some BLM employees.
“I think they look at it as a great thing for them and they’d be excited to have that opportunity,” he said. “I can’t imagine anybody who works public lands issues wouldn’t be excited to get out to the West, away from the Potomac.”
He said he’s hesitant to guess the chances for passage of what is a fairly novel bill.
“This obviously would be a very significant change, a one-of-a-kind change, and I think help address some long-lingering issues about how the West is perceived at Western land agencies,” he said.