In a week in which President Trump officially withdrew William Perry Pendley’s nomination to be director of the Bureau of Land Management, the Trump administration also is facing mounting calls to end Pendley’s tenure running the agency in an acting capacity.
The White House on Tuesday notified the Senate that Pendley’s nomination to run the agency, now headquartered in Grand Junction, is being withdrawn, after previously having indicated it planned to do so. Pendley’s nomination could have faced considerable opposition in the Senate confirmation process, and it also would have put senators such as Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado in a difficult spot as they face stiff challenges for re-election.
For many Pendley opponents, however, withdrawing his nomination isn’t enough. Even before that withdrawal was formalized this week, every Democratic U.S. senator, including Michael Bennet of Colorado, wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, urging him to end Pendley’s role running BLM in an acting capacity.
Pendley is the agency’s deputy director for policy and programs but has been running the agency for more than a year in an acting capacity. In their letter to Bernhardt, the Democratic senators cited concerns over Pendley’s past advocacy for selling off public lands and reducing access to them, “attempts to undermine tribes and tribal sovereignty, and denial of climate change.”
Pendley is an attorney who formerly was president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation.
On Wednesday, nearly 200 organizations, tribes and businesses wrote to Bernhardt calling for Pendley’s removal as acting director. Their letter cited Pendley’s record “of inflammatory rhetoric and actions opposing virtually all issues of social justice and diversity, opposing Tribes’ efforts to protect sacred sites and mocking indigenous religious beliefs, virtually unprecedented conflicts of interest and ethical issues, and embrace of radical anti-conservation positions including advocating for the sale of public lands.”
Among the letter’s signers were the Western Colorado Alliance based in Grand Junction, the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and Conservation Colorado.
In an email, BLM spokesman Derrick Henry called the letter “a lowly attack by special interest groups to smear the reputation of a dedicated public servant and former Marine.”
Henry said, “Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience … and is committed to carrying out the Administration’s priorities and achieving the BLM’s multiple-use mission for the betterment of the American people. Mr. Pendley will continue to lead the Bureau of Land Management as Deputy Director for Policy and Programs.”
The BLM points to more than 25,000 acres the agency has acquired under Pendley’s leadership.
On Wednesday, House Natural Resources Committee Vice Chair Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., led a livestreamed roundtable challenging Pendley’s continued leadership of the BLM. She said that before joining the BLM Pendley helped lead the legal charge to shrink or eliminate Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, and it was an intentional insult to tribal sovereignty to put him in charge of the agency responsible for “dismembering” Bears Ears.
The Trump administration has sharply reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument, which is home to numerous Native American cultural sites.
Haaland said Pendley “is unfit to lead an agency that protects sacred and irreplaceable cultural resources.”
Others on the call reiterated arguments that Pendley has overseen an agency that has been weakening environmental protections while further opening the door to industrial activities such as more oil and gas development. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., contended Pendley has overseen a “chaotic, disruptive relocation” of the agency’s headquarters, draining the agency of expertise as some staff chose to leave the agency rather than move.
“I’m particularly interested in this dismal move of the agency to Colorado. All of this was based on a lie that somehow it was about cost savings but we know from lots of other statements that have been made about this that it was really an attempt to demoralize and transform the agency,” Raskin said.
The BLM has moved the headquarters and some 40 jobs to Grand Junction, and also moved other headquarters positions from Washington to other places around the West. The Trump administration says the move puts agency leaders closer to the lands they manage, and Pendley has said some of the positions being relocated were vacant ones that are now easier to fill because people prefer to live in the West.
Pendley and an Interior official had told Congress that one reason for the move was the high cost of renewing a lease at a Washington office. A recent Interior Department Office of Inspector General report said those comments were misleading because the BLM long had planned not to renew the lease, but it said there was no evidence Pendley and the other official were personally involved in drafting those statements or that the Interior staff who were involved intended to mislead Congress.