Interior Secretary Dodging Congressional Demands on Reckless Public Lands Agency Move

Subpoena May Be Required After Sec. Bernhardt Offers No Justification, Fails to Provide Cost-Benefit Analysis

With Congressional leadership renewing their push for answers from the Trump administration’s Interior Department concerning the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) move West, Interior Secretary Bernhardt continues to dodge requests. Representative Raul Grijalva has signaled the possibility of subpoenas to reveal the actual cost-benefit analysis of this long-criticized relocation plot but the possibility of Trump administration appointees actually responding to demands for data remains dubious.

“Secretary Bernhardt is happy to bend over backward for his former lobbying clients anytime they need a favor. But when it comes to answering critical Congressional questions about uprooting the largest public lands management agency in the country, he only offers to exchange pleasantries instead of providing the actual data and cost-benefit analysis,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “It’s clear that Sec. Bernhardt must be hiding something if he is stonewalling this important information. Moving the BLM has long been seen as a plot to gut the public lands bureau so it will better serve the Trump administration’s special interest allies.”

Representative and Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl Grijalva has repeatedly asked Sec. Bernhardt for justification supporting moving the BLM out of Washington D.C. and away from the decision-making table. However, the Interior hasn’t offered justification nor a cost-benefit analysis for relocating the BLM for over six months. In July, Joe Balash, a former Interior appointee, outlined the move’s justification. However, despite widespread demands for more information and clarification, the Interior has yet to follow up with data or analysis. Further, Interior’s website has posted only three press releases concerning the BLM move since the official announcement in July 2019 and only offers broad, empty talking points on the BLM website.  

The cost-benefit analysis requested by Congressman Grijalva is critical in part because the Congressional funding allocated to support the BLM move hinges on the promise that Interior provides “regular briefings to lawmakers on the controversial Bureau of Land Management headquarters relocation.” Interior has already received some $14 million tax dollars on the reorganization and relocation proposal and has requested an additional $27 million that was not authorized. 

Congress has been in the dark regarding the BLM move since the very start. Nearly two years after the idea was originally proposed by scandal-plagued disgraced former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the reorganization plan was still a “mystery” to Congress. 

Previously, Sec. Bernhardt has offered only sparse justification for the BLM move, including increased local control. However, that reasoning was widely debunked. With the BLM working in the same building as giant oil corporation headquarters as well as the appointment of highly-conflicted and highly-recused William Pendley to lead the agency, moving the agency is now seen as another attempt by the former oil and gas lobbyist to allow unfettered industry access to America’s public lands.

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