The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Yetta Stein, Communications Associate

Western Values Project

(406) 529-1682

Watchdog Files Suit for Bureau of Land Management Relocation Documents

As Subpoena Threat Looms, Trump Administration Violates Law by Failing to Respond to Western Values Project Public Documents Request

Whitefish, MT.

Today, Western Values Project (WVP), a Montana-based public lands watchdog nonprofit, filed suit (1:19-cv-02789) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for public documents related to the Trump Administration's controversial proposal to relocate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters, which were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The suit follows calls by the Chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee to subpoena the Department of the Interior in order to force the release of the department's reorganization and relocation plans.

"There are more questions than answers regarding the intent and purpose of the Trump Administration's controversial proposal to relocate the Bureau of Land Management, and now Interior is illegally stonewalling the release of public documents," said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O'Neill. "Interior Secretary Bernhardt has left just about everyone in the dark when it comes to this hairbrained, costly political power grab concocted behind closed doors for special interests."

WVP filed several FOIA requests shortly after Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Interior announced the relocation of BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado. FOIA laws require agencies to respond within 20 working days of a request. The Interior Department requested and was granted a 10-workday extension on two of the requests, which has since lapsed. WVP is seeking public documents related to the BLM's relocation from Interior, General Services Administration, Office of Budget and Management, and the BLM itself.

Last week, Acting BLM Director and known anti-public lands zealot William Pendley was grilled in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on the relocation but could offer little more than generalities and platitudes, reaffirming that the Trump Administration's relocation plan is a not-so-veiled attempt to hand over public lands to their special interest allies.

After the hearing, Committee Chairman Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) said that Pendley's testimony raised concerns that the plan 'has been slapped together as we go along' and threatened to use the committee's subpoena power in order to force the agency to release the reorganization and relocation plans.

After new documents released last week revealed that some 49 BLM staffers, including four of BLM's legislative affairs employees - who typically work on Capitol Hill - would be relocating to the Reno, Nevada, field office, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) asked for a briefing on the issue. Amodei said his office had not been briefed on the relocation proposal after it was publicly announced by Interior more than two years ago.

The proposed BLM HQ move has been widely criticized for lacking a purpose since the vast majority of BLM staff are already based in the states. Reorganizing the BLM is seen by members of Congress as part of a larger effort to appease special interests by skirting government accountability efforts. The move has also been called into question by former BLM career public servants and the Western Governors Association, who believe it is a not-so-veiled attempt to transfer public lands to states, a precursor to selling them to private interests. Recently, Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted that the intent of relocating federal employees was to force them to quit.

Interior already spent some $14 million on the reorganization and relocation proposal and has requested an additional $27 million that has not been allocated.

There are more than a dozen agencies that have partial jurisdiction over our public lands, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and others. Failure to maintain BLM HQ staff in D.C. will result in the exclusion of these key leaders on important and real-time discussions and decisions.

Western Values Project brings accountability to the national conversation about Western public lands and national parks conservation - a space too often dominated by industry lobbyists and their allies in government.