The Bureau of Land Management is moving its headquarters to a building that houses offices for several oil and gas companies operating in Western Colorado, including Chevron USA, Inc., and the local branch of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
The headquarters move from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colo., was a response to calls from members of Congress and agency staff for the Interior Department to dispatch more staff to the West, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Sept. 21.
“We had trouble at times recruiting our best staff to move to D.C. and be part of the D.C. headquarters,” Bernhardt said, speaking at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo., the location of the Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters.
The BLM, part of the Interior Department, announced the Grand Junction, Colo., address, at 760 Horizon Drive, for its headquarters Sept. 20.
Bernhardt spoke Sept. 21 at an annual meeting of Club 20, a group representing Western Colorado business and local government interests.
Bernhardt said that the specific headquarters address, which is across the street from the BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office, was chosen because of its proximity to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices and Grand Junction Regional Airport.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates a small office five miles away.
Bernhardt declined to answer questions about the move following his speech Sept. 21. He took questions only from Club 20 members and one local newspaper reporter.
‘Infested’ With Lobbyists
When asked about the new BLM headquarters office’s close proximity to the oil companies the bureau regulates, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), dismissed the question, saying Washington, where BLM has been headquartered until now, is “infested” with special interests.
“There are thousands of lobbyists in Washington, D.C.” Gardner said following a speech at the Club 20 event. “Somehow BLM is protected from them by being in Washington, D.C.? That’s absurd.”
“The opponents of BLM are going to do everything they can to try to oppose it,” Gardner said, referring to the BLM headquarters move.
Interior is relocating the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction to allow bureau officials to make more decisions close to the land they manage and for state government officials to have greater access to BLM decision-makers.
The new headquarters is 250 miles from the nearest state capitol in Denver.
Most BLM employees are already in the West. The headquarters move would transfer more than 200 jobs out of Washington, D.C., to various offices around the West.
Twenty-seven employees will staff the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction, while 61 employees will remain in Washington, D.C.
Nineteen Grand Junction-based positions are currently being advertised, according to the BLM ‘s announcement.
Washington-based BLM headquarters employees were notified last week about where their positions are moving, Bernhardt said.
One of Interior’s goals under the Trump administration is to cut the time it takes its agencies to conduct National Environmental Policy Act environmental reviews of oil and gas leasing and other major projects, and expedite fossil fuels development.
Bernhardt said that during his tenure at Interior, the department has cut the time it takes to publish environmental planning documents in the Federal Register from an average of 199 days to 32 days.
Oil and gas drilling permit processing time has been cut from an average of 251 days to 51 days, Bernhardt said.
The Interior Department is also considering ways to produce more rare earth metals on public lands, Bernhardt said.
He suggested that Interior may seek ways to consolidate environmental reviews for uranium extraction with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The BLM currently has to do its own environmental review for uranium extraction, Bernhardt said.
“Is that really necessary?” he said, adding that Interior is reviewing many existing processes for licensing rare earth metals and “looking at incentive and realty structures.”
The BLM may also soon revise grazing regulations on its land throughout the West, Bernhardt said.