U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has introduced legislation that would carry out via law what she previously has endorsed as a matter of policy — keeping the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters in Grand Junction.
Boebert, R-Silt, is proposing what she calls the Local Opportunities, Conservation, and American Lands Act, or LOCAL Act, which would mandate that the headquarters stay in the city and further require that all BLM jobs stationed in western states remain in those respective states.
The measure would further require that the Interior secretary study the feasibility of moving more BLM positions to Grand Junction or elsewhere in the West, “and determine amongst other things whether such relocation will improve management of Federal lands, increase coordination with local communities, and strengthen tourism, conservation, outdoor recreation, grazing, responsible energy production, or other multiple uses.” The Interior secretary would have a year to submit a report on the study results to House and Senate committees.
“Westerners deserve a voice in the land-use decisions that affect their lives daily. I am proud to introduce the LOCAL Act to ensure that our local communities have access to the decision-makers at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters. Since 99% of the lands that the Bureau manages are West of the Mississippi, it only makes sense to have the agency located close to the communities it serves,” Boebert said in a news release.
Those comments are consistent with those made by the Trump administration and former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., as the administration with the urging of Gardner and others decided to move the agency’s headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction. The agency moved more than 300 jobs out of Washington to multiple locations in Colorado and to numerous other states in the West.
The future of those relocated jobs is now uncertain under the administration of President Joe Biden because of criticism over the relocation. Those who oppose the relocation are concerned about the high number of BLM national-level employees who left the agency rather than move, and contend the BLM was further weakened through so much of its leadership being moved far from the halls of power in Washington.
Critics of the move have included Deb Haaland, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico who recently became Biden’s Interior secretary. However, she indicated during her Senate confirmation hearing that she would consult with western senators and other stakeholders on the subject, and promised to visit the new headquarters in Grand Junction.
The office’s move to the city continues to have bipartisan support in Colorado, including from Gov. Jared Polis and the state’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, all Democrats. But all three have voiced disappointment that the move ended up bringing only 41 jobs to Grand Junction, less than previously had been anticipated.
Bennet and Hickenlooper have written to Biden to support a fully functioning headquarters in the city.
Where further BLM jobs might come from to add to the staffing at the headquarters or other western locations isn’t clear.
The Trump administration kept about 60 jobs in Washington, saying they should remain there because they pertain to things such as congressional relations.
Other than that, enlarging the headquarters staffing in Grand Junction conceivably would mean shifting jobs from other western locations where headquarters jobs also were moved, which could weaken support in the West outside Colorado for the headquarters relocation.
Ten U.S. representatives — all from the West and all Republican, including Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn in Colorado — joined Boebert in introducing her bill for consideration by the Democrat-controlled Congress.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce supports the bill, although Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the chamber, thinks it has a pretty small chance of moving anywhere in Congress.
Still, she said she thinks the bill is helpful as one more means of repeating the message of support for keeping the headquarters in town.
“I think once we look back on this we want to be sure that we’ve taken every possible measure and every avenue to preserve the headquarters here,” Schwenke said.
Asked about the bill and whether Bennet might support it, his office didn’t mention the legislation at all, saying in a statement only that “Michael is looking forward to welcoming Secretary Haaland to Grand Junction and remains focused on working with the Biden (a)dministration to grow the BLM in Colorado.”
Chandra Rosenthal, Rocky Mountain director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, said in an email, “Before Rep. Boebert puts forward this legislation she should talk to the BLM employees and BLM union to see what they believe is in the best interest of the agency. BLM staff that I have spoken with say that BLM will be its most effective with headquarters in D.C.”
Rosenthal said the Trump administration attempted to lop off the head of the BLM by failing to put forward a director for confirmation for Trump’s entire four-year term “and by moving the headquarters to a small city.” She said staff in Washington, D.C., have direct access to other Interior officials, Congress and congressional committees, “and the ability for interagency collaboration.”
According to a release from Boebert’s office, her measure has support from entities such as western Colorado’s Club 20, the Mesa and Garfield county commissioners, the Western Energy Alliance oil and gas trade association, the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition and the Colorado Snowmobile Association, among others.