Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley on Tuesday defended the administration’s plan to move the department's headquarters to Grand Junction. Testifying in front of the House Natural Resources Committee, he described the plan as a win-win.
"Nothing beats being on the ground," he said. "Nothing beats seeing something up close and personal."
He reiterated previous arguments for the move: It’s important to have decision-makers in the field. It will save money. He also addressed concerns about his past advocacy for the sale of public lands.
“I love America’s public lands,” he said. “I have never advocated the wholesale disposal or transfer of those lands.”
Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse said using the world “wholesale” was an inappropriate qualifier. “It sounds as though you’re denoting that some sale of the lands is appropriate and we fundamentally disagree on that point.”
Despite Pendley’s previous advocacy, A Department of the Interior spokesman said, “Secretary (David) Bernhardt has been crystal clear that the department adamantly opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands.”
Pendley repeatedly said as a member of the Trump administration, he stands behind the president and Bernhardt’s position on the sale of public lands.
But it didn’t alleviate concerns of some lawmakers. Rep. Paul Tonko of New York is concerned that the plan wouldn't drain the swamp but rather -- as he put it -- add alligators.
“This is a dangerous move, one that not only disrespects federal employees, but also threatens to to rid federal agencies of institutional knowledge and devoted civil servants,” he said.
Robin Brown, executive director for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, supports the move and the reasoning behind it.
“The idea that BLM leadership shouldn’t be influenced by the communities that rely on our public lands is misguided,” she said. “It tells me you don’t trust people like us from rural communities to advocate for the highest and best use of our public lands.”
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona says it’s not the local communities that are coming under question. "It’s the distrust that’s centered on this administration. Their motivation, and what is really behind the move that we’re trying to get at," he said.
He cited a speech by acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney saying moving a federal office outside of Washington, D.C., is a good way to get rid of federal employees. Grijalva says that given the lack of transparency, analysis and consultations, this appears to be nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to dismantle a federal agency.
Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Grand Junction, was also at the hearing to defend the move. He said he was concerned that partisanship is affecting what should be good policy.
It was a point made by Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner on the Senate floor on Monday.
“This is not a Republican-driven idea or a Democrat-driven idea. This is a bipartisan approach that has been embraced by leaders on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Pendley told the committee a full list of positions moving west will be released next week.
One person who won’t be moving? Pendley. He told the committee he’ll be staying in Washington.