by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
When it was announced in 2019 that, at long last, headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management would be moved to Grand Junction, there was rejoicing in western public land states, where leaders had advocated the move for a generation. There was also significant opposition, especially in Washington, D.C., where insiders are accustomed to continually expand their turf, not diminish it.
The BLM never belonged in Washington. It manages 247 million acres, almost half of all public lands, for multiple uses, under a wide variety of laws. That includes 18,000 grazing permits, 220 wilderness areas, 27 national monuments, 600 National Conservation Areas, 200,000 miles of streams, 2,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, 6,000 miles of National Scenic Trails, 63,000 oil and gas wells, 25,000 mines, and 50 million acres of forests. Not a square inch of that is in Washington, D.C. It is all in 12 western states, so it never made sense for the leadership to work 2,000 miles away.
Still, opponents were determined. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) raised the most irrational arguments, first calling the move “handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies” — as if ownership of federal lands has anything to do with where the employees live — and then calling the move racist, insulting western Colorado as an unwelcoming place. Another major critic was freshman Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), now secretary of the Interior. Naturally she must satisfy her political base, so she announced plans to return BLM headquarters to Washington, citing a need to “rebuild” the agency “following years of transition and upheaval.” It’s political bluster, but there is less to the new plan than meets the eye. Far less.