Arizona representatives Trent Franks, Martha McSally, and Ann Kirkpatrick joined Congressman Paul Gosar, who spearheaded a bipartisan letter to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze asking him to suspend any consideration of merging the Arizona and New Mexico state offices.
This week, the Western Energy Alliance penned a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell raising similar concerns about this proposal stating, “The addition of Arizona and its large federal acreage to the New Mexico office would only serve to further divide resources in the state office in a manner that is not compatible with BLM’s mission, and it would limit the time and attention the State Director and associated staff may reasonably be expected to devote to each state. Combining the New Mexico and Arizona State Offices into one entity would assuredly lead to gaps in the knowledge necessary to effectively manage the diverse lands and resources that would fall under the purview of the new position.”
Western Energy Alliance represents over 450 companies engaged in all aspects of environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West. The Alliance represents independents, the majority of which are small businesses with an average of fifteen employees.
BLM Deputy Director Steve Ellis held an invite-only briefing for Congressional staff on April 24, 2015 discussing BLM’s consideration of a merger of the Arizona and New Mexico BLM offices into one office in Santa Fe.
The BLM claims the driving force behind this consolidation of these two offices is a potential savings of $1.2 million each year. However, this figure does not include accounting for any expansion of the consolidated office, relocation costs, etc. Furthermore, President Obama requested $1.2 billion for the BLM is fiscal year 2016, a $100 million increase above the fiscal year 2015 level. This is in addition to the $14 million increase the BLM received in fiscal year 2015. The BLM is proposing to spend $93.4 million on new land acquisition in fiscal year 2016.
Between Arizona and New Mexico, BLM administers a total of 25.7 million surface acres of public lands and another 43.5 million subsurface acres. It is the responsibility of the Bureau to effectively and efficiently manage these lands insuring that it maintains healthy relationships between state and local stakeholders.
The BLM in Arizona administers mining claim records and mineral leases on millions of acres of land. In addition, more than 12 million acres of BLM land is suitable for solar and wind projects. Development of these sources is critical to Arizona’s economy and implementing a true all-of-the-above energy strategy.
The Arizona BLM manages permits for active forest management on 11 million plus acres and grazing permits for another 11.5 million acres.
The Bureau of Land Management’s also manages lands within national monuments, in conservation areas and on historic trails. Finally, the BLM manages important outdoor recreation activities on their lands that include fishing, hunting and Off-Highway Vehicle opportunities.
“Relocating Arizona’s BLM office to Santa Fe defies commonsense and will lead to permitting delays, job losses, increased wildfires and less efficient land management. Furthermore, forcing 120 Arizona employees to uproot their lives and move to Santa Fe or lose their jobs is not normal workforce attrition,” said Gosar in a statement released on Wednesday.
“Currently, BLM spends almost $100 million each year on new land acquisition when the agency already can’t manage their existing land portfolio. Instead it should prioritize spending and find the necessary funding for this field office that is critical to Arizona’s economy,” continued Gosar.
“The millions of acres of BLM land in our state require a local office with local employees that are familiar with the unique topography and multiple land-use planning process utilized in Arizona.” Gosar conclude, “This relocation idea hasn’t been thoroughly examined and no economic impact statement has been completed. BLM should immediately put the brakes on this misguided proposal.”