Biden administration to move land bureau HQ back to D.C.

By: - September 18, 2021 10:00 am

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks during a visit to Grand Junction on July 23, 2021. Listening, from left, are Sen. Michael Bennet, Reps. Lauren Boebert and Joe Neguse, Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper. (Photo by Sharon Sullivan for Colorado Newsline)

President Joe Biden’s administration has announced it will return the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Washington, D.C., reversing a controversial decision by the Trump administration — with the support of a bipartisan array of Colorado political leaders — to relocate the office to Grand Junction.

The BLM’s Grand Junction office will instead serve as the “Western headquarters” for the agency, which manages nearly 250 million acres of federally owned public lands, the vast majority of them in the West.

“There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. — like all the other land management agencies — to ensure that it has access to the policy-, budget-, and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

Though championed by top Colorado Democrats like Gov. Jared Polis and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, the BLM’s headquarters relocation was heavily criticized by conservation groups and Democrats nationally, who argued that the Trump administration’s “reorganization” of the agency was a thinly disguised effort to dismantle it.

While the new Grand Junction headquarters was once touted as having the potential to draw hundreds of jobs to the Western Slope, Newsline reported in June that only three agency employees had accepted relocation to the new office.

“The previous administration relocated the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., a move that failed to deliver promised jobs across the West and drove hundreds of people out of the agency,” the Interior Department said in a press release. “This led to a significant loss of institutional memory and talent.”

In a statement on Friday’s announcement, Rep. Lauren Boebert, the first-term Republican congresswoman representing Grand Junction, took aim at Bennet and Hickenlooper.

“When it came down to the wire, Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper folded and failed to stand up for Colorado by using procedural tools to leverage the Biden regime to keep the main Bureau of Land Management headquarters, director, and senior leadership in Grand Junction,” Boebert said.

The Colorado Wildlands Project, a Western Slope-based conservation group, praised Haaland’s “balanced decision” in a press release.

“This decision is responsive to input from stakeholders and agency staff,” said Scott Braden, the group’s director. “Importantly (it) helps to put this lingering issue behind us so that the BLM can rebuild and meet the significant needs of the moment, such as reforming a broken oil and gas leasing system, managing surging recreation and meeting the conservation goals of President Biden’s ‘America the Beautiful’ vision.”

Hickenlooper, who had encouraged Haaland to consider keeping the BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction during her confirmation before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement expressing support for what his office called a “dual headquarters.”

“We’ll keep working to secure jobs in Grand Junction, including senior leadership positions. To succeed, the Western HQ must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission.”

Haaland visited Grand Junction in July. During the trip she said she hoped to make a decision about the BLM headquarters location soon. She acknowledged “being connected to the West is a good thing” but added that there are many facets to the BLM.

As for timing, “logistics and planning” will occur in the coming months, according to the Interior press release, which did not specify when the move will be completed.

This story was originally published by Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: [email protected] Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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