William Perry Pendley, who has come under increasing criticism from conservationists in recent days, said Friday that his reappointment this week by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management shows that he has Bernhardt’s support.
“I’m incredibly gratified and grateful at the confidence shown in me by President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt to extend my appointment,” Pendley said in an interview.
Pendley arrived Thursday afternoon in Grand Junction as the BLM opened its new national headquarters on Horizon Drive. He plans to be in town for a few weeks and then return again in February as the agency works to get the new office up and running in coming months.
The agency’s opening Thursday was greeted by morning protesters, many of whom oppose not just the relocation of the headquarters to the West but Pendley’s status as the temporary BLM chief.
That opposition ramped up recently with 91 groups writing Bernhardt to ask that Pendley resign or be removed from his position, and some 20 conservation groups writing to U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee members to oppose Pendley’s role as acting director.
Pendley, a BLM deputy director, first was appointed to be acting director in July. His appointment was extended once before and was set to expire just after the start of the year, but Bernhardt on Thursday extended it further, through April 3.
Pendley opponents partly object to his leadership of the ongoing move of the BLM’s headquarters employees to new locations in several Western states, including to its new headquarters in Grand Junction and to other offices in Colorado. They fear it will weaken the agency’s standing where decisions are made in Washington and leave more decisionmaking in the hands of political appointees rather than career employees. Pendley and other relocation supporters say it will result in BLM leaders living close to the lands and communities that their decisions affect.
Pendley critics also object to positions he has taken prior to joining the BLM, on issues such as public lands disposal and climate change, while working on public lands issues as an attorney.
Pendley described the criticisms being directed at him as a “grab bag of falsehood, distortion and innuendo.”
He believes what matters isn’t what he did for a living before but the job he’s doing now, and said in that regard his critics seem mostly upset about his work leading the headquarters relocation.
“We have to agree to disagree” about that issue, he said, citing bipartisan support in Congress for the move and the logic he sees in moving top BLM executives to West, where more than 99% of BLM lands are found.
“These groups have to do what these groups do,” he said. “They exist to push their agenda and they are in conflict not with me. They are in conflict with Secretary Bernhardt and more importantly they’re in conflict with President Trump.”
He said those saying he needs to go also describe him as being just like Bernhardt and Trump.
“Well, I consider that high praise,” he said.
“I’m doing the job President Trump was elected to get done,” Pendley said.
He said current events in the Middle East show that Trump was right in working to make America energy-independent. Trump this week ordered a drone strike that killed an Iranian commander in Iraq, an action Trump says was intended to deter imminent attacks on Americans.
Pendley said what the BLM has done on lands it manages is part of an effort to “make sure America is energy independent so we can do the right thing in the Mideast and not worry about the impact on the oil supply because we’ve got enough here.”
The BLM’s move to offer more oil and gas leases and ease industry regulations under the Trump administration is one of the areas of concern for administration critics.
The BLM plans to staff 40 people at its Grand Junction headquarters, up from initial plans to locate 27 positions here, including the BLM director and assistant directors. BLM spokesperson Megan Crandall said Friday that the BLM increased that number “because we anticipate needing more staff to ensure we are as efficient and productive as possible.”
She said employees are still working through the relocation process, so the BLM doesn’t know yet how many of the employees with jobs slated to move to Grand Junction will relocate.
Some of the positions are vacant ones that the BLM is filling. Pendley said it has hired three assistant directors who will be based in Grand Junction.
Some BLM employees in Washington are retiring or pursuing other federal jobs or other work rather than moving, creating concern among relocation critics that the BLM’s leadership will be hollowed out and institutional knowledge lost due to the move. Pendley said Friday that he’s been told that 85% of those who received notices that their jobs are being moved west have agreed to the move. Relocation opponents have said their understanding is that the number is far less.
Also Friday, Pendley said it was his idea to have the new national headquarters named for Robert Burford, a Grand Junction native who was the longest-serving director of the BLM, holding the post in the Reagan administration. Pendley worked in the Interior Department during that administration and said he was good friends with Burford.
“I always admired his work ethic and his commitment to President Reagan,” Pendley said. “… I thought it totally appropriate that we name our headquarters after him and honor him that way.”
He said he suggested to Bernhardt that the headquarters be named after Burford, and the Interior secretary “thought it was a marvelous idea.”
Like Burford, Bernhardt is from Colorado, having grown up in Garfield County.