Despite fanfare about her visit to Colorado last week, the decision to keep the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction does not begin and end with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The BLM’s future rests in the hands of Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. They must use their power to do the right thing or get the blame for another Colorado loss.
Visiting Grand Junction on Friday, Haaland said she will decide on the location of the BLM headquarters after assessing what’s best for the agency’s employees.
“We need to put the BLM employees first and do what is right for them,” Haaland said during a news conference.
Bad answer, and one that signals the return of the BLM to Washington. Taxpayers fund federal agencies to benefit the public and public property, not government employees who feel most at home inside the Beltway. Federal bureaucrats have clamored to return the BLM to Washington ever since former Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., persuaded former President Donald Trump to move it here. The decision was a small part of draining the swamp and putting the people who manage federal lands smack in the middle of the lands they manage.
Keeping the BLM in Colorado should be an easy decision based on merit alone. Sadly, it is power — not the integrity of an idea — that determines outcomes in Washington. Regarding the BLM, Colorado’s two Democratic senators have all the power they need.
“I am calling on Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper to place a hold on the Tracy Stone-Manning confirmation until they can secure a commitment to keep the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction,” said U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Republican representing Grand Junction and the rest of Colorado’s Third Congressional District, in a Sunday discussion with The Gazette. “They have the leverage right now to stand up for Colorado and do the right thing.”
Indeed. With a 50-50 Republican-Democrat split in the Senate, Democrats could confirm Stone-Manning on a party-line vote with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. Without support from Bennet and Hickenlooper, the nomination goes nowhere. They can say no to any confirmation unless and until Haaland, President Joe Biden, and his prospective director of the BLM agree to leave the headquarters where it is.
Advocates of returning the agency to Washington argue that few BLM employees want to live in Grand Junction, where the office mostly sits empty. This is a ruse. Federal office buildings have been mostly vacant for the past year because of the pandemic. Furthermore, any BLM employee who rejects living in the western United States is probably in the wrong line of work.
“The time for federal employees to get back to the office was months ago and they shouldn’t use Biden’s basement strategy to be picking on Grand Junction,” Boebert said.
“They want to continue working from their basements, and that’s why there are so few employees at the office. The DOI (Department of Interior) just two blocks from the White House is a ghost town and they don’t plan to return to work until September.”
Aside from helping Colorado, blocking a left-wing extremist from running the BLM should be a pleasure. In fact, it is hard to fathom why Hickenlooper supported this nominee in the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Stone-Manning was a member of the radical, left-wing, anarchist Earth First “environmental group,” and critics suspect her involvement in spiking trees and putting loggers in harm’s way.
Bennet and Hickenlooper don’t need spikes to stop this confirmation. They only need the peaceful process of casting their votes. It is what opponents of Trump’s agenda advocated when Republicans had a two-vote advantage in the Senate after Democrats picked up a seat with the 2017 election of Doug Jones in Alabama.
“What this means is that every GOP senator, including our own Cory Gardner, has a little more muscle to guard constituents’ interests,” said a Grand Junction Sentinel editorial titled “Be a leader, Cory” in 2017.
“Once Jones is seated, the GOP can only afford for one Republican senator to break ranks and still pass a bill. Two defectors will kill a bill. Gardner has an opportunity to demand certain assurances in exchange for his support of any measure.”
Coloradans, including Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, should pressure Bennet and Hickenlooper to lead like never before and demand the BLM remain in place. They have the power to do this, and it shouldn’t be difficult. Next, they should find another bill to obstruct until Biden agrees to reverse Trump’s decision to move Space Command from Colorado Springs to Alabama — a solidly Republican state.
Bennet and Hickenlooper can solve this problem and affect the proper outcome. They should do so boldly and unapologetically, boasting of how they use power to do what’s best for Colorado. If they don’t, they will own the loss of the BLM and Space Command. That’s a legacy they need to avoid.