US Senator Gardner: BLM Works for the West, not Washington
“Washington bureaucrats and Washington Democrats can oppose Colorado all they want, but I believe in Colorado,” Senator says.
Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), the chief architect of the plan to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Grand Junction, spoke on the Senate floor yesterday pushing back against Washington bureaucrats and Democrats who say that the BLM headquarters should stay in the capital city.
Remarks as delivered:
Thank you, Mr. President. Of course the Senate is back in session after the August work period where all of us were able to go home, and in the case of Colorado, go corner to corner to visit with constituents, to have meetings to talk about those issues that are concerning to the people of Colorado and what we can do to help provide solutions to the greatest challenges that they see in their lives, their businesses, and in their state.
It really is a remarkable time to go through such an incredible and beautiful state. In Colorado and the West, we are blessed with amazing, amazing beauty and splendor.
Our public lands are one of the smartest ideas this government has ever created over the 200 plus years of our nation’s history. To be able to spend time in southwestern Colorado, down by Mesa Verde National Park; over by Larimer County and Rocky Mountain National Park; to be in the Eastern Plains of Colorado; to visit places like the Sand Creek Massacre Site to reflect on what that dark chapter in our American history meant; to look at what we are trying to do to include Amache, the Japanese-American internment site, into our National Park Service.
It really is a chance to reflect on the greatness of our country.
This is a state that is composed of almost 50 percent public lands, a significant number of acres that are controlled, owned, managed by the State of Colorado, and of course a vast amount of acres that are controlled and operated by the federal government, whether that’s the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or the National Park Service.
But it’s the Bureau of Land Management that brings me to the floor of the Senate tonight. Because prior to our departure for the August work period, an announcement was made from the Department of Interior, from the Secretary of Interior, that the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management would finally be moving west, and indeed would be moving to Grand Junction, Colorado.
The Bureau of Land Management manages roughly 250 million acres of surface lands and surface area in our country, and almost all of it, over 99 percent, is west of the Mississippi River.
You can see the land that is highlighted in the red here. Now some of this land is just mineral rights and not surface land, but over here, the vast amount of acreage is all surface land, 245 and some million acres of land, 99 percent of which are west of the Mississippi River.
And the idea that we have been pursuing is that public lands are managed better when you manage them from within the communities that those public lands surround them in.
So in the case of Grand Junction, Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management, almost 73 percent of Mesa County, which Grand Junction resides, is public land.
Why not make the decisions facing these millions of acres of public lands in the West, where the lands reside instead of thousands of miles removed in Washington D.C.?
Moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters closer in proximity to the land it oversees and regulates makes sense. It’s common sense – two things that we don’t hear very often in Washington. This is a priority, moving the BLM is a priority I’ve been working on for a number of years, going back to an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with Neil Kornze – then the director of a Bureau of Land Management under President Obama.
It was a hearing where almost every county commissioner in the West had objected to a regulation that the BLM was pursuing, and yet the BLM continued to pursue it.
And I remember being frustrated in this hearing and finally saying to Director Kornze, “If you were just located in the West, if you just had your BLM offices in the West – your headquarters – you would understand why this is a bad idea.”
And at the time he kind of laughed and said, “Well, we should think about that.”
Well you know what, we did. And I’m pretty excited to say in just a couple of weeks we’ll be signing the lease for the new office space in Grand Junction to house that headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management.
But this is not – and I think this is important because this seems to get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of media coverage – this is not a partisan issue. This is not a Republican driven idea or a Democrat driven idea. This is a bipartisan approach that has been embraced by leaders on both sides of the aisle.
In fact, Democratic Colorado Governor Jared Polis in July said of moving the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, quote, “We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado. As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM, because of the community support, location closer to the land BLM manages, and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy.
That wasn’t a Republican who said that. That was the Democratic Governor of the State of Colorado embracing the move of the headquarters.
In fact, we had both Republicans and Democrats cosponsoring legislation that I introduced in the Senate, Congressman Tipton introduced in the House, to legislatively move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to the West and now in Colorado.
Unfortunately, we’re starting to hear some partisan debate though creep into this incredibly important move. Because what we’re seeing in Washington of course, are Washington Democrats trying to stop the process.
In the news we’ve read about Washington bureaucrats who are opposed to the move, but it’s important to realize that this decision is not about the bureaucrats, it is about the job that we are doing to represent our public lands. This is an agency that doesn’t just work for each other. It’s an agency that works for the people of this country to do the best job they can representing and managing our public lands, the public lands that they are charged to manage and to protect. Why wouldn’t you do that job from where the public lands reside?
Moving the headquarters to the West will improve support, it will improve engagement, it will improve oversight. It will improve collaboration with western governors whose states in some cases are overwhelmingly dominated by public lands.
It will improve relationships with state and local elected officials. It will improve relationships and management decisions, and work with the tribes and tribal officials, and sportsmen and women, and ranchers, and graziers, and farmers, and recreationalists, and energy users.
It will also save states in Western communities thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Imagine, if you live in western Colorado, you no longer have to fly thousands of miles to Washington D.C. You don’t have to buy an expensive roundtrip airplane ticket, spend a night in an expensive hotel, buy an expensive meal at an expensive restaurant. You get to travel, drive, or fly a very short trip to western Colorado with great air service and great interstate access. You don’t have to pay for a Washington hotel or a Washington meal. These are things that you can do when the BLM is actually located where 99 percent of the land they represent resides.
Under the Department of the Interior’s proposal, every single western state will get additional staff. 296 current Washington positions will be moved to locations throughout the West: from Alaska to Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Wyoming will all receive new staff out of Washington D.C., and into the public lands that they represent, that they oversee.
For those of us who are routinely in Washington, we’ll still be able to get information immediately and meet with immediately officials from the Bureau of Land Management. The Deputy Director of Policy and Programs will continue to be located in Washington, along with 60 other positions that are responsible for budgetary items, legislative affairs, regulatory affairs, and public affairs. They’ll still be here, so it’s not like Washington is all of a sudden going to have no one to call with no one answering their calls.
You know, it’s a little bit absurd. It talks a little bit about the lack of hubris that government has, to think that only Washington knows best and only Washington can lead. To think you can’t manage these lands from where they’re at.
This will improve the management of our public lands and BLM employees will see benefit as well. The cost of living for BLM employees that move from Washington to a state office will be considerably lower, and that will result in a significant increase back into his or her pocketbook.
Leasing costs are also worth raising when we talk about the BLM headquarters. The BLM compared leasing space for 27 staffers in Washington versus the leasing space available in Grand Junction, Colorado. The difference is $50 per square foot in Washington versus just over $32 per square foot in Grand Junction. If you think about what that means, that’s a significant savings.
You think about what it means for travel, and the cost to taxpayers of travel expenses for BLM employees. According to the Department, in fiscal year 2018 BLM employee travel from Washington to the West was more than $3.2 million. There’s no question that these resources could have been better spent on state offices and field offices that have been starving for resources for years.
And in its own analysis, the Department of Interior projects that the total costs over 20 years for the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters relocation and relocations to other western states will have a net savings of over $123 million. Not only will we have better decision making, not only will the leadership of an agency that is the largest holder of public lands and manager of public lands in the country be located finally in the lands that they oversee, better decisions coming as a result, we’re going to save $123 million.
It’s a commonsense move designed to save taxpayer money. Management decisions being bettered by the fact that these lands are now in their front yard instead of thousands of miles away. Bringing these decisions closer to the American people.
The only reason to oppose this move is if you don’t care about the people of the western United States, or you don’t think somehow the people of the western United States are smart enough to figure out how to run public lands, or to manage public lands. Or maybe you don’t think that Colorado is up to the task of being the headquarters of the BLM, because apparently you don’t trust the people in the West.
There’s no other reason to oppose this. This is common sense. Colorado is already home to significant portions of the USGS. Colorado is already home to North Com and NORAD. In fact, just today the new Space Command, the United States Space Command stood up in Colorado Springs at Peterson Air Force Base. And yet somehow there are people, Washington Democrats, who don’t think Colorado can handle the management of our public lands.
It’s offensive. It really is, to think that there are people in Washington who think that only Washington can do this job. It’s wrong, and we should stand up against that kind of idea that only Washington can do something and fight back against that mentality.
Colorado is home to significant EPA offices, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, significant resources of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Rocky Mountain Regional Office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, all in Colorado. And with so many acres of public lands, yes, we can manage public lands. And yes, Colorado should be the gateway to our public lands in this great country. And all of the wonderful access opportunities that that means to our economy, to recreation, to conservation. Ask any one of the thousands of federal government employees currently living in Colorado if they believe we can do this, and the answer is a resounding, “yes.”
Only in Washington do they think it’s only Washington that can do the job. Washington bureaucrats and Washington Democrats can oppose Colorado all they want, but I believe in Colorado. I believe in our ability to manage these public lands better than they’ve ever been managed before. I believe this is the best place in the nation to manage our public lands, to house and headquarter the Bureau of Land Management. And as a result, we will have a cleaner, better environment, more conservation opportunities, and a greater public lands economy as a result.
I’m excited about this future. The people of Grand Junction are excited about this future. And it’s far time that we now have a little bit less Washington and a lot more Colorado common sense.
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy