Proposed Interior agencies’ move to Colorado building up local support

Author: Tom Ramstack - August 30, 2017 - Updated: September 11, 2017

U.S. Department of InteriorIn this Jan. 23, 2015, photo, wild horses are seen gallop on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property near the Pine Nut Mountains just outside of Dayton, Nev. (Photo by Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

Grassroots support is growing in Colorado for a possible U.S. Department of the Interior plan to move the headquarters of three federal agencies to Denver.

The plan would be an economic efficiency move at a time the administration of President Donald Trump is being accused of ignoring environmentalists and allowing private industry to overdevelop government-owned property.

A relocation of three agencies to Denver was first reported by E&E News, an online site that reports on energy and environmental issues.

Zinke reportedly suggested moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation away from Washington, D.C., to Denver. All three of them are overseen by the Interior Department.

A location closer to the sites where they perform most of their operations on federal property would make them more effective, Zinke reportedly said during a July meeting with U.S. Geological Survey executives in Denver.

Zinke is preparing a reorganization and downsizing of the Interior Department tentatively scheduled to begin in 2019.

The relocation suggestion won quick agreement from organizations that operate close to federal lands in Colorado.

Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau, said he would like to see regulatory relief come from a move of the federal agencies to Colorado.

“We feel this will create needed reforms to federal regulations that have been driven by Beltway bureaucrats who don’t see firsthand the impacts of overburdensome rulemaking,” Shawcroft said.

Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said moving the three Interior Department agencies to Colorado would put them closer to their “stakeholders outside the Beltway, like many of us in Colorado, where our local economies are closely tied to the management decisions they make.”

The Bureau of Land Management is the largest of the three agencies with 11,621 permanent employees. It administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands, or one-eighth of the nation’s land mass.

Most of the land is located in 12 Western states that include Colorado.

The Bureau of Land Management is supposed to protect the wildlife, natural resources and national monuments on public lands. Private development is allowed through permits.

Ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits to graze livestock on public lands. Other permits and leases allow oil and gas companies to operate about 63,000 wells on government property.

A Trump administration policy that eases restrictions on oil and gas leases drew a recent warning from the Coalition to Protect America’s Parks, a nonprofit organization of retired National Park Service employees.

“As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities,” the coalition wrote in a letter to the Interior Department secretary. “But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages the nation’s water resources and operates hydroelectric power plants in western states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces laws to protect the nation’s fish, wild animals and their natural habitats while promoting environmental conservation programs.

Colorado organizations that support moving the agencies west were most interested in the economic benefits.

“The Colorado Wool Growers Association is definitely supportive of the effort to move these agencies to Denver,” said Bonnie Brown, executive director of the Delta-based association. “There is oftentimes a disconnect between [Washington] D.C. staff and what is actually happening on the ground. Having staff live and work near the resources they manage is just common sense.”

She acknowledged that the costs of moving federal agencies away from Washington could be large but added, “The short term transition costs should be offset by the long term savings.”

Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, said he liked the idea of moving the agencies to Colorado but wondered whether Grand Junction might be a better choice than Denver.

”When we spoke with our congressional delegation during a legislative trip to Washington D.C. in April, we had suggested the Western Slope of Colorado would be an ideal place for the [Bureau of Land Management],” Singer said. “One of the benefits of a [Bureau of Land Management] move to the Western Slope would be job opportunities in that part of the state.”

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Republicans Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, have previously advocated moving the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado.

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack