Biden administration to move public lands agency back to Washington from Colorado

09/17/2021 | 05:15pm

Sept 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will relocate its headquarters to Washington, D.C., from Colorado, reversing a Trump-era move that the Biden administration said drove hundreds of people out of the agency dedicated to managing federal lands.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the move during a meeting with BLM employees on Friday, the agency said in a statement. Interior is the agency that oversees BLM.

The announcement comes two years after the Republican Trump administration said putting BLM's headquarters in the West, where most federal lands are located, would save taxpayers $50 million and bring officials closer to the areas they serve.

But Interior said the move had failed to create promised jobs in the West and that hundreds of departures "led to a significant loss of institutional memory and talent."

Just 41 people in the 328 positions affected by the move opted to relocate, Interior said. Just three of those moved to the Grand Junction, Colorado, office.

BLM manages 245 million acres, or a tenth of America's land base, overseeing programs such as oil and gas drilling, cattle grazing and recreation. The bureau is central to the efforts of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to address climate change through the management of public lands by expanding renewable energy and tamping down on federal oil and gas leasing.

The bureau will maintain the office in Grand Junction, which it has promised to expand as a new western headquarters - an apparent concession to efforts by the state's Democratic U.S. senators to preserve the bureau's presence there.

U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, said in a statement he welcomed Interior's commitment to expand the office.

The announcement brought criticism from Republicans in Congress.

"Today's misguided, partisan decision has nothing to do with executing good land management and everything to do with centralizing and growing big government," U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the senior Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement. (Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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