Flagstaff Congress has been unable to convince Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to refrain from dismantling the Bureau of Land Management in his rush to dismantle and relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters out of Washington, DC. The result is an announcement last week that the BLM will move into a building shared by a Chevron corporate office, an oil and gas lobbying association, and a natural gas exploration company.
While BLM employees are being dispersed across several states, the bureau top leadership will move to Grand Junction, CO where they will share turf with an industry they should be regulating.
Bernhardt, who grew up in the town of Rifle, an hour’s drive from Grand Junction said “Standing up the headquarters is another step in providing better service to the American people and our neighbors in the West,”
Taylor McKinnon of Flagstaff said it’s an attempt to reinforce the Trump Administration’s new policy line of “energy dominance”. The notion that the primary use of public lands should be for energy extraction.
McKinnon, a Senior Public Lands Campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity, says that the move is also designed to shake up senior and long term BLM staff.
Environmental organizations and public lands advocates say it is an attempt to get BLM staff to quit. Being forced to uproot their homes and families to move three-quarters of the way across the country is a burden designed to change the working culture of the agency. In DC the BLM staff interacts on a regular basis with other managing and regulatory agencies, and staffers of congressional committees instrumental in making the policies protecting public lands from corporate encroachment. But in the new Grand Junction offices what will mostly be new BLM staff recruited from the corporations and interests they should be regulating the staff will interact on a daily basis with energy industry executives, literally across and down the hall.
In a press release the Union of Concerned Scientists said “The last time the Interior Department got this openly (and literally) cozy with industry was in the years leading up to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) scandal of 2008, when authorities discovered that regulators were doing drugs, exchanging favors, and having sex with their industry counterparts. There were literally no boundaries between industry and the agency—during the ensuing investigation one of the agency executives said: “Obviously, we’re all oil industry.”
Eva Putzova, (Flagstaff) candidate in Democrat Party primary for O’Halleran’s seat said “It’s symbolic and not in a good way. There is no confusion about whose interests the executive branch prioritizes. January 2021 cannot come soon enough.”
In a July interview, Rep Grijalva (D, AZ US District 3) said “This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability.”
“Since you can’t physically get in bed with industry, it seems like Bernhardt did the next best thing by moving in next door,” said Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the Western Values Project. “Now the agency tasked with protecting and standing up for our public lands will be rubbing elbows with oil executives and sharing a water cooler with extractive interest allies.”
Rep O’Halleran’s office did not respond to emailed questions about the move nor did either Arizona Senator.