The Bureau of Land Management has found office space for its new headquarters in Grand Junction at 760 Horizon Dr., in the same building that houses offices for oil and gas companies.
The move is catching criticism from some environmentalists, according to a story in the Denver Post.
The Interior Department announced Sept. 20 that it has leased part of a four-story building whose other tenants include Chevron and Laramie Energy — oil and gas companies that the BLM could provide leases to and regulate.
“To say it’s concerning is an understatement,” said Jim Ramey, state director for the Wilderness Society. “It really struck me that on the same day as an international climate change strike, the BLM has no shame announcing that it’s going to set up shop with fossil fuel companies,” he told the Denver Post.
The announcement also came a day before Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who helped orchestrate the BLM’s headquarters move, arrived in Grand Junction and spoke to Club 20, a western Colorado business group. The club’s annual fall gathering had many oil and gas sponsors, including Chevron, the Colorado Petroleum Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Caerus Oil and Gas and Trapper Mining. Environmentalists protested outside.
Gardner lauded the BLM’s move to Grand Junction during his prepared remarks Saturday, reiterating his claims that it will lead to better and faster decision-making within the Interior Department. In comments to reporters after the event, he defended the BLM’s new office space.
“The opponents of BLM are going to try to do everything they can to continue to oppose this,” the Republican senator said, comparing the existence of lobbyists in Washington D.C., home to BLM’s current headquarters, to oil and gas neighbors at the BLM’s new location in Grand Junction.
“Washington is infested with special interests. You mean to tell me that BLM is insulated from that? They’re infested. There are thousands of lobbyists in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner said. “Is the Sierra Club in Washington? Yes, they are. Are energy interests in Washington? Yes, they are,” he added, suggesting the agency is more susceptible to industry lobbying now than it will be when the headquarters is in Colorado.
A related Denver Post story found that support for moving the BLM headquarters has been bipartisan. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis opened his remarks to Club 20 on Saturday, Sept. 21, by cheering the agency’s move to Colorado. “We are all incredibly excited about the new BLM office in Grand Junction,” Polis said.
Twenty-seven jobs are expected to move to Grand Junction, although Polis and Gardner said they hope that number will increase. Bernhardt, a native of Rifle, told Club 20 members Saturday that the headquarters could be ready for occupancy this winter. He said 19 Grand Junction job openings had been posted on government job websites, suggesting many of the current headquarters employees will not make the move from Washington , D.C. to Colorado.
But some environmentalists counter otherwise. Michael Saul, a Colorado-based attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the BLM’s choice of a building was “a highly symbolic and highly cynical gesture,” and that Bernhardt is telling staffers, “if you’re not putting oil and gas first, you’re not loyal to the mission.”
Critics have claimed the Grand Junction move will force career BLM employees to quit, weakening the federal agency, according to the Denver Post story. Aaron Weiss, a deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, said oil and gas executives will “merely need to walk down the hall” at the new Grand Junction headquarters to talk with whomever “is left after the administration is done eviscerating” the BLM.
To supporters of the BLM headquarters move, such as Gardner, who faces a tough re-election fight in 2020, arguments against it are “silly,” as he told Club 20 on Saturday. Better decision-making undoubtedly will come about from the change, according to the Republican senator from Yuma.
“I think it’s important because Grand Junction – western Colorado – is now the true national gateway to our public lands,” Gardner said. “And that is exciting.”