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Boebert seeks to block money from being used to relocate BLM headquarters

Biden administration could still use other funding to move office from Grand Junction
An office building in north Grand Junction that houses the Robert F. Burford Bureau of Land Management Headquarters. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Rep. Lauren Boebert’s amendment to keep the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction passed with unanimous consent last week in the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Boebert’s amendment prohibits the use of money in the 2022 budget from being used to close the headquarters in Grand Junction. This comes after the Biden administration began to review the Trump administration’s decision to move the headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction.

Deb Haaland, the secretary of the Interior, said in 2019, when she was a U.S. House representative for New Mexico, that there was no justification for the BLM to be moved away from Washington. The Trump administration decided to move it to Colorado so it would be closer to the public lands it manages and said it would save taxpayers money.

Critics argue the Trump administration moved the headquarters to Colorado to disrupt its operations and force out staff members and experts who wanted to remain in Washington. More than 287 employees retired or found other jobs at the time of its relocation.

“Westerners deserve a voice in the land-use decisions that affect their daily lives, and it would be wrong to move the Bureau of Land Management thousands of miles away from the land it manages back to a faceless marble building in D.C.,” Boebert said in a statement issued to The Durango Herald.

The headquarters’ move to Grand Junction was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper supported it and have fought for a fully-fledged headquarters since the move was on a smaller scale than originally planned.

Only 41 senior staff positions were assigned in Grand Junction, according to a Washington Post report, while the bureau employs more than 10,000 people and manages more than 245 million acres of public lands.

In the face of the Biden administration’s review of the move, Boebert aligned herself with Bennet and Hickenlooper to keep the headquarters in Grand Junction, an area she represents. The three recently worked together to lobby new Biden appointees to maintain the location.

“Sen. Bennet has always called for a fully-functioning BLM headquarters in Grand Junction that actually works for the American people,” said a spokesperson from Bennet’s office. “In July, at his and Sen. Hickenlooper’s invitation, Secretary Haaland came to Grand Junction to see the enthusiasm from the community about the BLM headquarters. He will continue listening to the community when it comes to the future of the BLM in Grand Junction.”

The rare case of bipartisanship between three of the more well-known Colorado representatives worked in Grand Junction’s favor, said Boebert, as her amendment just passed.

“The chairman’s decision to include Rep. Boebert’s amendment demonstrates that there is broad, bipartisan agreement that the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters should remain in Grand Junction,” Boebert’s office said in a statement.

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva wrote a letter to Haaland in April calling for the headquarters to be returned to Washington. Efforts to reach a spokesperson for Grijalva were not immediately successful Wednesday.

While Boebert’s amendment does not allow money to be used from the 2022 budget for the purposes of moving the headquarters back to Washington, other money from the federal government could be used to move it. Boebert’s news release described the amendment’s success as a way to “keep the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters in Grand Junction.”

“Either she is intentionally and knowingly lying to her supporters, or she truly has no idea what words she is writing down on paper and voting on,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the conservation organization Center for Western Priorities, said about the way Boebert is portraying the situation to her constituents. “That’s the only two possibilities.”

Unanimous consent also means the amendment passes as long as no one objects to it, despite Boebert touting it as a large bipartisan success. According to House rules, much of the House does its “noncontroversial work” through unanimous consent.

Weiss said he hopes Tracy Stone-Manning gets confirmed sooner rather than later, possibly even next week, to lead the bureau. She has shown support for moving the headquarters back to Washington.

“He (former BLM Acting Director William Perry Pendley) broke the Bureau of Land Management and successfully forced out the vast majority of career staff who were at BLM headquarters and successfully caused the brain drain across the agency,” Weiss said. “Secretary Haaland is now trying to fix that, hopefully very soon.”

Still, there is bipartisan support among Colorado representatives for it to remain in Colorado. Along with her amendment, Boebert introduced a bill in March in the House Committee on Natural Resources mandating that the headquarters remain in Grand Junction.

Kelsey Carolan is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a senior graduating in December 2021 at American University in Washington, D.C.

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