Land agency moving back to DC, reversing Trump-era decision

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is moving the national headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management back to the nation’s capital after two years in Colorado, reversing a decision by former President Donald Trump’s administration to move the agency closer to the region it serves.

The land management bureau, which oversees nearly one-fifth of the nation’s public lands, lost nearly 300 employees to retirement or resignation after its headquarters was moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019. Grand Junction will be rechristened the agency’s “western headquarters,” Haaland said in a news release, and “have an important role to play in the bureau’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation, and scientific missions.”

With control of 245 million acres, the agency has broad influence over energy development and agriculture in the western U.S., managing public lands for uses ranging from fossil fuel extraction, renewable power development and grazing, to recreation and wilderness.

Trump’s first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, initiated the headquarters move west and called it a needed reorganization that put top agency officials closer to the public lands it oversees. The move was completed under David Bernhardt, who succeeded Zinke in 2019.

Critics said the Trump administration intended to gut the agency and pointed to the number of people who refused to transfer to Colorado as evidence of the administration’s bid to get rid of career employees. A similar mass exodus occurred after two Agriculture Department research agencies were moved from Washington to Kansas City, Missouri, under Trump.

Haaland, who opposed the BLM move as a congresswoman from New Mexico, visited the Colorado headquarters in July a fter being confirmed as interior secretary.

Top Colorado Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis and members of the state’s Congressional delegation, wanted the headquarters to stay in Grand Junction. Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper said Haaland’s decision to keep a presence in Grand Junction “will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West.″

To succeed, the western headquarters “must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission,” Hickenlooper said. The Trump administration “scattered jobs” throughout the region and assigned only a few dozen positions to “a shell headquarters in Grand Junction,″ Hickenlooper added.

Haaland said in her statement that the past several years “have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants and to their families.”

“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,” she said. BLM’s presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow, she added.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bureau does not need two headquarters.

“The Biden administration’s answer for everything is to double the size of government,” Barrasso said. “The single headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management belongs in the West, closer to the resources it manages and the people it serves.”

What the BLM needs “is an honest director who doesn’t bring shame to the agency,” Barrasso said, referring to President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the bureau, former Democratic aide Tracy Stone-Manning, who received no Republican support in an energy panel vote on her nomination in July. Barrasso and other GOP senators have lambasted Stone-Manning over alleged links to a 1989 environmental sabotage investigation.

Stone-Manning will face a full Senate vote in order to become the new director. It would take every Senate Republican plus at least one Democratic lawmaker to block her confirmation in the evenly divided chamber. Haaland, who would be Stone-Manning’s boss, reiterated her full support for the nominee during her Colorado visit.

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