After obtaining the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) lease for the new headquarters in Colorado, and with many questions remaining unanswered, one thing remains clear: there will be winners and losers if this reckless and purposeless plan continues to move forward. As it currently stands, the BLM relocation will be a big win for many of Secretary Bernhardt’s former clients and extractive resource special interests and a huge loss for America’s public lands.
Oil and Gas Special Interests:
After the BLM announced that it had officially signed a lease in Grand Junction, CO, questions were quickly raised about the location of the new headquarters. The BLM signed a lease in a building that also houses a Chevron corporate office, a state oil and gas association, and an independent natural gas exploration company and is within walking distance of other special interests — meaning, the very agency tasked with the multi-use management of our public lands is co-locating and is neighbors with special interests and oil and gas giants.
The office location ultimately underscores just how much the BLM move is intended to give extractive corporations unfettered access to BLM decision-makers. The result? More decisions made in favor of special interests and even fewer made with our outdoor heritage in mind.
Oil and Gas’ Million Dollar Senator Cory Gardner:
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the same oil and gas corporations who will now share a building or are within walking distance of the new BLM headquarters calling into question Sen. Gardner’s motivations in pushing for the reckless and purposeless relocation.
This is hardly the first time Sen. Gardner’s actions have been linked to high-profile special interest donors. Behind the scenes, Sen. Gardner has raked in well over a million dollars in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry over his career, including cash from the Koch Industries PAC and oil and gas CEO Harold Hamm.
Anti-Public Lands Zealot William Pendley:
William Pendley was appointed Acting Director of the BLM despite his outrageous and extremist record, including calling for the sale of America’s public lands.
Given his troubling record on diversity as well as his history of suing the department he now leads, Pendley’s resume alone should be enough to make him unqualified to lead the largest public lands management agency. However, Pendley also touts a 17-page recusal list which begs the question: are there any decisions or policies in front of the BLM that Pendley wouldn’t be recused from working on?
Moving the BLM West was partially claimed as a push to “localize” public lands control — a common dog whistle when it comes to transferring public lands, risking their sale. It’s exactly what Pendley has spent his career advocating for — a position that was previously contradictory to the administration but even that position has devolved under Bernhardt’s corrupt regime.
Critical career staff voices:
While the BLM move has long been criticized and questioned, career public servants recently faced a harsh ultimatum: to either quit the agency or uproot and move to essentially work for the same extractive corporations the BLM is supposed to regulate.
This is hardly the only evidence that the move appears to be extremely poorly planned and extremely messy. Strikingly, staff who agree to relocate face salary cuts. Staffers also believed the relocation effort was about trying to force career voices out. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney validated these fears.
No one knows who’s on first giving BLM staffers real reasons for concern. Initially, the effort was led by former Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash, but when things got tough, he hit the D.C. revolving-door for a job at an oil corporation.
Now, it appears anti-public lands zealot William Pendley is in charge of all the relocation efforts. Pendley first had said he’d be staying in Washington, D.C. but now he will apparently be at the new headquarters on January 2nd for the start of the new year.
At the end of the day, BLM staff face an impossible choice: keep their jobs and leave their home, or lose their jobs and face uncertainty. Meanwhile, Interior’s top-ranking political appointees see to be able to pick and choose their battles and location.
Government oversight efforts:
Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee rightfully called for an investigation into the BLM move by the congressional watchdog U.S. Government Accountability Office. However, Interior’s continued stonewalling of oversight efforts and the revelation that the BLM has already signed a lease in Colorado — despite questionable support as well as uncertain funding — highlights Sec. Bernhardt’s intent to totally disregard these efforts.
Further, the BLM recently uploaded a new FAQ section to its website outlining what it says are the reasons why the agency is relocating to new headquarters in Grand Junction, CO. The talking points, however, are filled with political spin and the same debunked talking points that have been called into question by watchdog groups, former BLM career public servants, Members of Congress, and the Western Governors’ Association.
Interior Secretary Bernhardt has long proved he’s not to be trusted with America’s public lands. The BLM move is just the latest example.
With the BLM move’s plan constantly full of inconsistencies, it is the American taxpayer who will suffer. While Interior officials themselves estimate that the average relocation costs may amount to $50,000 per affected employee, they have not answered where the funding will stem from.
The BLM relocation is also likely to result in $162,000 in new equipment and furnishing costs. Previously, Interior officials claimed that cost savings would come from cuts to employee salaries — while simultaneously approving of 25% bonuses for employees willing to relocate.
Taxpayers will be forced to pay for a handout to oil and gas special interests that was never approved by Congress in the first place.
Public lands and wildlife:
Perhaps the greatest loss that will likely result from the BLM move is to America’s public lands, wildlife, and ultimately, our outdoor heritage.
The BLM manages hundreds of millions of publicly accessible land that is used for recreation activities, provides critical habitat for wildlife, and that natural resources are used with a balanced mindset.
With the critical agency uprooted and staffless, it is a near guarantee that power will solidify in the hands of Interior’s already-corrupted political appointees, leaving our public lands in the hands of those well-connected special interests who seek to exploit exactly what makes America great: our public lands, wildlife, and Western way of life.