Overnight Energy: Watchdog blasts planning behind BLM relocation | Progress on Senate energy bill | Dems eye two measures for inclusion ahead of vote

Overnight Energy: Watchdog blasts planning behind BLM relocation | Progress on Senate energy bill | Dems eye two measures for inclusion ahead of vote
© Greg Nash

LET'S MAKE A PLAN: A government watchdog found the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) largely failed to justify relocating nearly all of its Washington-based employees and scattering them across the West, delivering fuel to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) as he weighs a subpoena on the subject.

A scathing report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) paints a picture of an agency that did little to determine how the move would improve the agency, excluded employees from having a say in the process and failed to do a proper analysis on a number of factors. 

The report makes clear that a 17-page July letter to Congress was the agency's "implementation plan" for the move, something GAO said "does not include key milestones or metrics against which to assess progress," nor any deliverables. 

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The BLM relocation would place 27 employees in a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., while scattering about another 150 staffers in existing offices across the West. The move would leave just 61 of the public lands agency's 10,000 employees in Washington.

Dems seize on report: "This report reveals what many of us were very concerned about – that this relocation was poorly-planned and ill-advised, and that the Trump administration didn't think through how this would impact people's lives or the effectiveness of the BLM in the short or long term," Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDHS watchdog to investigate COVID-19 cases in ICE detention facilities Hispanic Caucus makes major ad buy for New Mexico Democratic candidate for House Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections MORE (D-N.M.), who has pushed BLM for information on the move, said in a statement.

"I fear this unnecessary and irresponsible institutional damage will have serious ramifications for the agency's ability to carry out its essential mission for years to come."

The agency describes the move as an effort to get employees closer to the lands they manage. However, critics see it as an effort to undermine an agency that can at times stand in the way of energy development.

The relocation has spurred a mass exodus of employees, as documents obtained by The Hill Thursday show that more than half of the D.C.-based employees slated for reassignment have left the agency instead of moving.

"This administration has created an intentionally abusive and cruel relationship between the federal government and its employees," Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement Friday. 

"BLM has already lost dozens of key employees and the administration, like an incompetent con man, is desperately spinning it as a great opportunity to find new people."

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The agency's side: In a response to GAO from late February, BLM acting Director William Pendley defended his agency's actions, arguing the move was based on "data and evidence" and that employees declined to move in only a "handful of cases."

The report questions BLM's decision to place the new headquarters in Grand Junction, a town of 60,000 on Colorado's Western slope, located about four hours from any major city.

GAO said the agency "did not describe a methodology for choosing a location for BLM's new headquarters" and did not "explain how information would be evaluated or how BLM would rank factors to select the preferred location."

BLM's move was first announced by Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Minneapolis protests rock the nation McConnell: Next coronavirus bill will be final COVID-19 package Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA MORE (R-Colo.) who faces a tough reelection battle this year and may need to rely on support from the more Republican-leaning Western part of the state.

The report also dings the agency for failing to do a proper cost-benefit analysis.

Previous reporting from The Hill found the cost-benefit analysis for the move was just two pages -- something experts called a "highly incomplete basis for informing a policy decision."

GAO said the analysis "did not contain complete information, such as the cost of travel to Washington, D.C., from all the new staff locations, or factors such as the effect of staff relocation on productivity."

The report also criticized BLM for failing to meaningfully engage with its employees while planning the relocation.

Documents "do not indicate that staff other than the executive leadership team were consulted or engaged with during this formulation process," the report says.

Read more about the report and BLM's response here

 

TGIF! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin. 

 

ENERGY BILL UPDATE: Senate Democrats appear to be narrowing their efforts to battle climate change through a fast-moving energy bill, focusing on two amendments that have proven controversial in the upper chamber.

A Senate aide told The Hill on Friday that Democrats plan to push for amendments on energy efficiency and reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), saying in an email that the measures "have teeth and would address climate change in a significant way."

Democrats previously vowed to also go to bat for clean energy tax credits as part of the bill from Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits GOP senators urge Trump not to restrict guest worker visas MORE (R-Alaska) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE (D-W.Va.), which is aimed at spurring research and development into renewable energy as well as technology to ease pollution from fossil fuels.

What did get in the bill: On Thursday, Murkowski threw her support behind 18 provisions from senators across the ideological spectrum, saying she would package them as a modified substitute amendment.

"Our bill now addresses priorities from nearly 70 members of the Senate. We have made it even better than it was, and now we need to move on to our final steps," she said on the Senate floor. 

The list, however, doesn't include several provisions that Democrats -- and some Republicans -- have been fighting to add in.

A spokesperson for Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Voting rights, public health officials roll out guidelines to protect voters from COVID-19 MORE (D-Ore.), who proposed an amendment aiming to expand tax incentives for electric vehicles and renewable energy, said the senator's provision won't be included in the legislation since it wasn't on Murkowski's list. 

"It won't be included in this package given that it was not one of the 18 amendments added," the official told The Hill. "Senator Wyden will continue to look for opportunities to move these energy tax policies."

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Sticking points: The two amendments that Democrats will continue pushing were also not on the list.

One is a building codes amendment from Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Open Skies withdrawal throws nuclear treaty into question GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (D-N.H.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSoured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet On The Money: McConnell: Talking about fifth coronavirus bill 'in next month or so' | Boosted unemployment benefits on the chopping block | Women suffering steeper job losses from COVID-19 Kudlow: 0-per-week boost to unemployment benefits won't 'survive the next round of talks' MORE (R-Ohio) that would try to make new homes more energy efficient, though the codes are voluntary and at states' discretion.

The HFCs provision, from Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperMail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump threatens coronavirus funds for states easing voting MORE (D-Del.) and John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), would aim to lessen the use of the heat-trapping chemicals in refrigerators and air conditioners and is becoming a major sticking point in the energy bill negotiations.

Kennedy will continue to push for a vote on the measure, an official told The Hill on Friday.

The senator previously said that he would hold up the entire bill to try to include his proposal, which has been met with opposition from some Republicans and the White House, who say language should be included to prevent states from setting their own stricter standards.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoIRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 MORE (R-Wyo.), who is among those voicing concerns with the proposal, told The Hill on Thursday that he is working with Kennedy and Carper on changes to their amendment.

Read more about the amendment process here

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ON TAP NEXT WEEK: 

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the spending priorities and missions of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management

The panel will also hold an oversight hearing later that day on the policies and priorities of the 

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and examine President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE's budget request for fiscal 2021. 

On Wednesday, Bernhardt will return to Capitol Hill for a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the administration's proposed budget request for his department.

An House appropriations panel will also look into the impact of PFAS exposure on servicemembers, while another will examine Trump's budget request for the Advanced Research Projects Agency--Energy (ARPA-E), which the president has proposed eliminating.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will look at Trump's nomination of Douglas Benevento to be deputy administrator of the EPA, as well as two nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will look at Trump's proposed budget for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation.

The House Natural Resources Committee will mark up a series of bills

On Thursday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will look at the "future impacts of continued federal inaction" on climate change.

The House Natural Resources panel will look at the environmental and cultural impacts of a proposed mining operation.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Louisiana restoration plan deemed a 'squandered opportunity,' E&E News reports

Virginia passes sweeping law to mandate clean energy amid questions about cost, The Washington Post reports

Lawmakers just voted to ban plastic and paper bags in N.J., NJ.com reports

Exhibit A: Science advisers' critiques of EPA rules, E&E News reports