Judge Removes the Authority of Acting Bureau of Land Management Director

In early October, a federal judge in Montana removed the Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William Perry Pendley’s authority and indicated that actions under his leadership could be invalidated. Pendley has served as the acting director of the BLM for over a year. During Pendley’s tenure, he oversaw deregulatory efforts, unprecedented oil and gas leasing, and land-use plans that favored industry. 

The ruling by Judge Brian Morris occurred in response to a lawsuit by Montana Governor Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources. The plaintiffs contended that since the Senate had not confirmed Pendley, he has no authority to make decisions for the BLM. 

Management plans by Pendley leave public lands unprotected

Sixty environmental and conservation organizations sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to retract all management plans, decisions, rulemakings, and regulation influenced by Pendley. 

The plans and decisions the organizations asked Bernhardt to retract include the Lewistown Resource Management Plan and the Missoula Resource Management Plan. The Lewistown RMP covers 651,200 surface acres and 1.2 million acres of federal mineral estate in central Montana. It allows oil and gas leasing on 95 percent of the Lewistown area. The Missoula RMP covers around 163,000 surface acres and 268,000 acres of federal mining interests between Missoula and Avon in Montana. The plan increases grazing and timber harvesting and removes protection for environmental areas of critical concern. Both plans govern the management of the land for the next 20 years. 

Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, said that the Lewistown and Missoula RMPs are “another example of why William Perry Pendley is unfit to lead the agency that manages more than 245 million acres of public land.” She added that Pendley “has rejected what Montanans have asked for and is now advocating to hand them over to oil and gas companies at below-market prices.”

The management plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah are two other decisions the organizations asked Bernhardt to retract. The plans for the national monuments leave two million acres of public land unprotected. Within the two million unprotected acres are culturally significant sites for the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe, such as rock art and cliff dwellings. Leaving them unprotected opens them to looting and vandalism. 

Pendley acted as the de facto head of the BLM for over a year. President Trump nominated him in June to serve as the official head of the federal agency but withdrew the nomination in August. In September, House Democrats demanded Pendley’s removal, and Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado spoke on the Senate floor against Pendley. Bennet characterized Pendley as “by far the most extreme, anti-public lands nominee in my lifetime.” He pointed out that Pendley does not believe in the concept of public lands but has argued that the founding fathers intended for the sale of all federal lands. 

Pendley refuses to step down despite the court ruling 

William Perry Pendley refuses to step down despite a court challenge to his authority. “News of my political demise has been greatly exaggerated,” he said at the Free Roaming Equids and Ecosystem Sustainability Network conference in Cody, Wyoming. During an interview with the Powell Tribune, he said that the court decision “has no impact, no impact whatsoever.” He added that he has “the support of the president.” 

 “Taxpayers are going to be on the hook as the administration tries to save face by blindly appealing this strong rebuke of its legal charade,” said Western Values Project director Jayson O’Neill. “Challenging this decision will not only cost taxpayers more but create additional layers of uncertainty for both industry and public land users.” 

What you can do

Are you tired of corrupt presidential appointees making decisions that destroy the nation’s public lands? Vote on November 3