Democrats object to Interior plans to move BLM out west

Democrats object to Interior plans to move BLM out west
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Appropriations Democrats tasked with overseeing the Department of the Interior formally objected to the agency’s plans to move the headquarters for one of its Washington-based agencies to Colorado.

Interior announced in July it would create a new headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Grand Junction, Colo., and scatter another roughly 300 D.C.-based employees at other offices throughout the West.

“Based on the incomplete and superficial information that you provided, it appears that the proposal to relocate Bureau headquarters is not based on rigorous financial and organizational analysis, nor is it intended to increase the Bureau’s accountability and improve the management of our nation’s public lands,” Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Experts criticize changes to EPA lead, copper rule | House panel looks into plan to limit powers of EPA science advisers | Senate bill aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 Overnight Energy: Trump budget slashes EPA funding | International hunting council disbands amid lawsuit | Bill targets single-use plastics Bill targets single-use plastics in push to make manufacturers responsible MORE (N.M.) and Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Let's prevent irreparable harm to an irreplaceable wilderness area Democrats secure fast-track to the floor for Canada-Mexico trade deal MORE (Minn.), both the leading Democrats on their chambers' respective Appropriations subcommittees that oversee Interior, wrote in a letter asking the agency to suspend the move.

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The move has set up a showdown between Congress and Interior.

After giving Appropriations committees in both chambers 30 days to ask questions, Interior said it would move ahead with the relocation. But that raised objections from Appropriations members who said they had not approved the reallocation of funds to cover the move. 

Udall and McCollum say Interior sidelined Congress, organizational analysts and career staff at the BLM when making plans to move the agency, along with failing to provide answers to basic questions or a meaningful cost-benefit analysis.

“Under different circumstances, any one of these deficiencies cited could be explained away as the result of a planning process that was too rushed or was not comprehensive or inclusive enough. But taken together, and in light of the recent appointment of an acting Bureau Director with a long-established record of attacks on public lands, the actions of the Department suggest something far more damaging: a deliberate effort to dismantle and weaken the Bureau,” McCollum and Udall wrote.

The letter comes as outside groups have pushed for more congressional oversight of the relocation. 

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The Public Lands Foundation, a 600-member group composed of former BLM employees, asked leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on a relocation they say will “functionally dismantle” the agency.

Interior has argued that moving BLM out west will put staffers closer to the lands they manage, but critics say it will make the agency dysfunctional as key staff are spread out and unable to meet with stakeholders in D.C, including other agencies within Interior, outside departments and Congress.

McCollum and Udall’s letter raises questions about how much power lawmakers have to stop the relocation.

“Although it was made clear that the Department intends to proceed with the relocation of the Bureau—regardless of our position—we oppose any further action by the Department to implement this proposal.  We call on the Department to immediately suspend its efforts to relocate,” the two wrote.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department said most "informed citizens" would agree that moving BLM makes sense.

"It's troubling that Sen. Udall and Rep. McCollum seem to have missed the numerous detailed reports, Committee and staff briefings, and written responses to every single question asked by the Congress during the past few months," the agency said in a statement to The Hill. "All of these briefings and communications have explained the advantages, efficiencies, and other savings of such a relocation to the Department, our stakeholders, and the public. We have stressed from early in this process that it was consistent with and responsive to the feedback received from a broad range of partners, including members of Congress, Governors, local officials and the public.  In addition, we have provided office-level, state by state breakdowns of the benefits of this effort."