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BLM headquarters may be headed West. Here’s what Idaho lawmakers, environment experts say

Boise State Professor John Freemuth told Congress last week there will be winners and losers if the Bureau of Land Management moves its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Freemuth, the Cecil Andrus Endowed Chairman of Environment and Public Lands at BSU, has long been viewed as a fair, unpolitical arbiter of issues surrounding the West. So it was no surprise that the House Resources Committee called on him to examine the proposal by the Trump administration to move all but a small contingent of its staff out of Washington, D.C., to offices across the West.

The public reason the Trump administration wants to do this is to put the decision makers closer to the people who live around the 247 million acres of public land that the agency’s 10,000 people manage across 12 western states. However, only about 3% of its staff are in and around Washington, D.C.

Idaho rancher and State Sen. Bert Brackett summed up the problem he and others hope this move will solve.

“They’re so out of touch,” Brackett said.

Freemuth doesn’t dispute that. But he wanted the committee to understand that moving 290 of the BLM’s top employees, including the 27 who would man its Grand Junction, Colorado, headquarters, won’t automatically solve that.

“Centralized decisions that contradict locally and regionally crafted solutions can admittedly be a problem,” Freemuth told the committee last Tuesday. “But decisions that need to be made in Washington will be made by the people who are in Washington. If the BLM Directorate is not in Washington, it will be much less likely to be part of the decision.”

Those decisions will be made by political appointees, he said.

Had Interior Secretary David Bernhardt chosen Denver, Salt Lake City or Boise as the new headquarters’ site, the administration’s argument that it wanted to make the BLM more responsive and efficient might be believable. But picking Grand Junction, a city with limited air service, is clearly a political choice.

It may be that Bernhardt, who grew up in nearby Rifle, Colorado, simply wants to help Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner win reelection. Or it could be what acting Trump Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told people at a recent fundraiser:

“By simply saying to people, ‘You know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out in the real part of the country,’ and they quit — what a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time,” Mulvaney said in a quote in the Washington Post.

Robin Brown, who testified on behalf of Grand Junction’s business community, suggested the move of 27 top BLM officials would get them away from 11,654 registered lobbyists in D.C. She said those lobbyists have spent $3.46 billion influencing Congress. But these lobbyists will still be lobbying the political appointees who will make decisions without the voice of the BLM leadership.

Certainly, Grand Junction is a center of the oil and gas industry that the Trump administration has set as its top priority to serve. You probably don’t find a Sierra Club office down the street, but you will find a powerful lobbying group for traditional mining, ranching, and oil called Club 20.

Brackett supports the move.

“I would be more supportive if it were Boise,” the Rogerson, Idaho, Republican said.

Boise, like Grand Junction is in the thick of public lands managed by the BLM. More importantly, it already is the home of the Interagency Fire Center, where the BLM, other federal agencies and even state agencies all work together to manage the nation’s firefighting and disaster response resources. Boise also has one of the BLM’s two training centers.

Our air service is not up to the level of Denver’s or Salt Lake City’s, but it is far better than Grand Junction. Acting Director William Perry Pendley boasted of the benefits the transfer of headquarters to the West would mean for the states with specifics for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

Curiously, he left out Idaho. I guess they don’t have to worry about holding on to the Senate seat here.

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