A busy start to the new year awaits the Bureau of Land Management’s acting director.
William Perry Pendley plans to be in Grand Junction on Thursday as staff begin operating out of the agency’s new national headquarters office in Grand Junction.
Meanwhile, his future status as the head of the agency should be known by Friday because his current appointment by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as the agency’s acting director expires then.
Pendley, deputy director of policy and programs at the BLM, first was put in charge of the agency in July and Bernhardt extended that appointment around the end of September, and theoretically could extend it again. Pendley also has voiced interest in being nominated by President Trump to be the agency’s director, something that would require Senate confirmation for a person who has drawn criticism for positions he has espoused before joining the agency. As president, Trump has yet to nominate anyone to serve as BLM director.
On Monday, 91 conservation, sportsmen and faith-based groups, including some local organizations, wrote to Bernhardt to ask that Pendley resign or be removed from his position.
“Pendley holds views that are antithetical to the BLM’s mission to manage public lands and resources on behalf of all Americans. In fact, Mr. Pendley has called for selling off public lands,” the groups said in the letter.
It had the support of groups such as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Western Watershed Project, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, and Western Slope organizations such as the Western Colorado Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, High Country Conservation Advocates and Grand Junction chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
The letter questioned the propriety of Bernhardt appointing Pendley as a deputy director “exercising the authority of” the director, arguing such action is intended for use during times of presidential transition, and Pendley wasn’t appointed through the recognized practice under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act letting presidents appoint acting directors for up to 210 days.
Among other criticisms, the groups also cited Pendley’s “mismanagement” of the move of top BLM jobs to Grand Junction, saying the threat of possible job loss for those not willing to move “is demoralizing career employees at the same time he is undermining the operational effectiveness of the agency.” Pendley and other officials say the government has tried to help those unwilling to move get other jobs in the Interior Department or in some cases take early retirement.
The Interior Department did not respond Monday to specifics raised in the letter, but said in a statement, “For this group of environmental extremists to call themselves sportsmen and conservationists is as laughable as this letter. Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Department and is committed to carrying out the Administration’s priorities for the betterment of the American people.”
Pendley served as deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals for the Interior Department in the Reagan administration, and later spent nearly 30 years as president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation.
Pendley has said his past views on public lands disposal are irrelevant, as he now takes his direction from the Trump administration, which opposes wholesale disposal of public lands.
He and the Interior Department, and other supporters of the move of jobs from the BLM’s Washington office to Western states, say it will put decisionmakers closer to the lands and communities affected, and save money compared to costs in Washington.
The BLM plans to locate about 40 jobs, including the BLM director and assistant directors, in Grand Junction, and shift about 300 Washington jobs altogether to Western states.