Three Western Democrats have joined fifteen Republicans in co-sponsoring a House bill that would move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington, D.C. to one of twelve Western states.
The bill calls for shifting the Department of the Interior agency to one of the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, or Wyoming.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) signed onto Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Colo.) bill in June, joining his Colorado Republican colleagues Rep. Ken Buck and Rep. Doug Lamborn. Rep. Mike Coffman (R) signed on in July.
“Relocating BLM headquarters to the West would be a natural fit with the agency’s mission and purview, and allow agency officials to be closer to the land and minerals they oversee. I believe Colorado is well-positioned to house the BLM headquarters as Coloradans value our public lands and outdoor recreation,” Perlmutter told Western Wire via email.
In an email to Western Wire, yet another Democratic representative from Colorado’s Congressional delegation expressed their endorsement for the action.
“I’m happy to join my fellow Colorado legislators on a bill to move the BLM out west, away from the politics of D.C.,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). “I know the perfect home for the agency: Colorado. We would welcome the BLM with open arms. With the agency closer to the vast public lands we all cherish and share, they would have better insight into what the lands mean to the western way of life. It makes perfect sense to have the agency nearby.”
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Diana DeGette, the sole remaining Democratic representative from the state, was unable to provide a response. These expressions of support followed a House Natural Resources Oversight Committee hearing on the reorganization of the Interior Department, which included discussions on relocating agency headquarters outside of the nation’s capital.
Tipton told Western Wire his bill reflects how he “believes that moving more of the people who make land management decisions out to the West is good policy.” When he introduced the House version of the bill in May, Tipton said “a move of the headquarters to any Western city would be welcome news.”
Tipton is optimistic about the possibility of the city being situated on Colorado’s Western slope, specifically mentioning places like Grand Junction. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who presented a Senate version of Tipton’s bill, shares this preference.
Regardless of where the BLM headquarters might be relocated, Tipton said would be staffed “by the people who know the land best.”
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) serves as the other Democratic co-sponsor. Hailing from the West, Sinema is a member of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition. Western Republicans such as Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah), and Rep. Don Young (Alaska) have also lent their support as co-sponsors of the bill.
Although Colorado’s Democratic senator has indicated support for relocating the BLM, it remains uncertain whether he will officially endorse the bill.
“I’m all for it. I’m all for it, I think it would be great,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told Western Wire in August, when asked about the possibility of Interior agency relocation. “I think anything we can get out of Washington, D.C. and into Colorado, I’m for.”
A call to Bennet’s office for comment was not returned by deadline. **Update: A spokesperson for Bennet sent an email to Western Wire after deadline. “Michael remains supportive of moving the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington, as long as the move is more than symbolic and includes resources to better manage our public lands,” the spokesperson said.
Leading Democratic officials at both the state and local levels in Colorado are supportive of the idea of establishing a headquarters in the state.
“Colorado is home to many employees with the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told Western Wire in August. “Their colleagues would receive a warm welcome should Sec. Zinke relocate the entire team to Colorado. It’s an ideal location and having them closer to the resources they manage makes good sense,” said Hickenlooper. Denver’s Democratic Mayor Michael Hancock joined Hickenlooper in endorsing the proposed move.
Employee notes from a BLM meeting in July 2017, which were made public, revealed discussions about potential plans to relocate up to three Interior agencies to the Denver, Colorado area. The offices under consideration included BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).
“Denver will probably have the headquarters for BLM, FWS, and BOR,” the memo read. According to the notes, agency relocation would commence no earlier than 2019.
According to Nick Loris, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy at the Heritage Foundation, relocating Interior offices to the West would enhance accountability and grant states more authority, particularly in areas like oil and gas permitting. Loris shared these insights with Western Wire earlier this week.
“I do think it makes a lot of sense,” Loris said. “Making the agency more responsible to the majority of its customers, which is the West, or the Gulf Coast for offshore energy, and more accountable to the people impacted by the decisions makes all the sense in the world,” Loris said. He noted the bipartisan support expressed in states like Colorado in both his written and delivered testimony.
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