Gardner Takes to Senate Floor to Commend BLM’s Relocation to Grand Junction

Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), the chief architect of the plan to move the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) headquarters to Grand Junction, spoke on the Senate floor today commending the Department of Interior’s decision to relocate the BLM’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado. The BLM plans to move eighty-five positions, including the senior directorate and members of their staff, to Colorado to be closer to the public lands they manage.


BLM Floor Speech

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to view Senator Gardner’s remarks.


Remarks as delivered:


Thank you, Mr. President.


Several years back at a committee hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Director Neil Kornze, under the Obama administration the Director of the Bureau of Land Management, was testifying before a committee on a regulation that was coming out of the BLM that most, if not all of the county commissioners and various organizations in Colorado were opposed to.


In fact, the opposition was so uniform in Colorado, I simply couldn't understand - and throughout the West, actually - I couldn't understand why the BLM was going forward with that regulation.


And out of frustration at one point during the committee hearing, I said, ‘Director Kornze, if you were just located in the West, if you're just out West, you would understand why this rule is a bad idea.’


And the response at the time, several years ago was kind of a chuckle and a laugh and “yeah, well, we should talk about that” and it planted the seeds of an idea that actually was made into reality just last week with the announcement that the headquarters of The Bureau of Land Management will be moving out West and indeed to Grand Junction, Colorado.


This announcement was made on June 16th and I commend the efforts of Secretary Bernhardt and the Department of Interior for listening to the people of the West.


This is not a Republican issue.


This isn't a partisan issue.


In fact, this idea to move the BLM headquarters out to the land that it regulates and oversees has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans across Colorado and throughout the West.


They also talked about their intention in this announcement to reorganize the Bureau of Land Management and relocating a significant number of headquarters jobs throughout the West not just in Grand Junction, but in Lakewood, Colorado, in Montana, in Utah, and beyond.


And I think it's important to talk about the reasons why this particular agency makes so much sense to have it located in Colorado, in the West.


Look at this map here. Now this map is a combination, the red on this map is a combination of both mineral rights and surface lands. 47 percent of the land in the West, you can see the red, 47 percent of all the land out West is where 93 percent of all federal land is located. So the federal government owns roughly 47 percent of this land out West. That's where 93 percent of the federal land is located.


Think about that.


93 percent of the federal lands in the red, that's where 47 percent - nearly half of all the federal land - is located nationwide.


The Bureau Land Management is responsible for managing approximately 700 million acres of federal mineral estate located underground. That's -- that's the entire country of course. But 245 million acres are surface acres, federal surface lands. 


All but 100,000 acres of those surface acres - all but 100,000 of those acres - are West of the Mississippi River and located predominantly in the eleven westernmost states, and Alaska.


One of the frustrations I hear from local county officials and environmental activists and farmers and ranchers is that when they deal with their BLM local field office, they seem to have a very good experience - that people are working together to solve problems, they like the conversations that they have and the cooperation that they’re getting from the local and regional offices. But something happens when that decision-making process then moves to Washington, D.C. 


Something happens and all of a sudden the conversation and communication can stop, it changes, and all of a sudden the outcomes aren’t what they thought it would be based on those local, productive conversations. 


We’ve seen directives and management decisions coming more from Washington, D.C. lately than those local field offices where the people know their communities best, who understand the land the best. 


So, what happens is that deep pockets and special interests in Washington often carry the day, make the convincing arguments, thousands of miles removed from where the federal land, the public land actually is. 


And that’s why it’s important to have this BLM move. It changes that.


Instead of having the special interests in Washington, in a community that has none of these public lands located in it, they’re able to make that decision right here in Colorado, surrounded by public lands in a community that is defined by the public lands that they oversee.


I believe government is going to work better when it’s local - when the local decision makers are closest to the land that the decisions that they are making affects the most.


And that’s why this decision is so important.


Because whether it’s issues of withdrawal of locatable minerals or the reduction of grazing permits, the concept of multiple use over time, the idea that we can use this land for preservation, conservation, that we can use it for energy development, that we can use it for grazing, has somehow fallen out of favor.


My friend Greg Walcher, who’s a former Senate staffer for Senator Armstrong, used to head the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, wrote an op-ed about this point - pointing out that the multiple use mandate includes managing 18,000 grazing permits, 220 wilderness areas, 27 national monuments, 600 national conservation areas, 200,000 miles of streams, 2,000 miles of wild and scenic rivers, 6,000 miles of national scenic trails, 63,000 oil and gas wells, 25,000 mines, and 50 million acres of forest.


Not a square inch of that is in Washington, D.C. It is in 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.


It’s never made sense for leadership to work 2,000 miles away from these states, insulated by the inevitably different perspectives of life inside the Beltway.


That’s what’s so important about this decision.


When you don’t live in the communities that are among and surrounded by these lands, it’s easy to make decisions that close off energy development or close cattle ranches and grazing opportunities, because the consequences are felt out West, instead of in Washington, D.C.  


But this strong push by westerners - Scott Tipton, myself, others, Secretary Zinke - began the conversation about modernization and the organizational structure for the next 100 years of the Bureau of Land Management, and I appreciate Secretary Bernhardt’s decision to make this happen.


Grand Junction, where the new BLM will be located, is an incredibly beautiful place with people who are so supportive of this decision.


A community that knows that when these decision makers are in their community, they’re going to not have to drive hours or take a flight for four hours out of Washington to see BLM lands, but just to look out the window and see the lands they manage will result in better decision-making.


Mesa County, where Grand Junction is located - it’s the county seat - is 73% federal land, 46% of which is managed by the BLM.


In total, the BLM manages 8.3 million acres of surface in Colorado, and 27 million acres of federal mineral estate in Colorado.


But we’re not the only state that will benefit, obviously.


There are a lot of other positions that will be moving across the country to the state, to the location, where those jobs are best fit. It makes sense.


I know sometimes people think that Washington is the only place where people can do government’s work, or where people can find the kind of skilled workforce – that’s one of the arguments, actually that’s been made against the BLM move is only Washington has skilled workforce able to do these jobs.


Look, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to live in the counties and communities surrounded by public lands, then why are you working for a public land management agency?


So, I’m excited about this, I want to thank the good people at the Secretary of Interior who made this decision happen, and to the community of Grand Junction who supported this from day one.


In the same op-ed that Mr. Walcher wrote, he opened with a quote – it said this, “There is something more powerful than the brute force of bayonets: it is the idea whose time has come.”


And that’s where we have finally arrived today.


An idea whose time has come, locating the decision makers who affect our western communities the most, out in western United States.


So thank you, Mr. President for the opportunity to talk about this decision.


And I commend the Secretary of Interior for doing what’s right by our public lands, and I will continue to stand up for our public lands throughout this process.


Thank you, I yield the floor.   


Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy