On Monday, 91 conservation, sportsmen, and faith-based groups concerned with public lands management, representing more than 3.9 million Americans, submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Bernhardt calling for William Perry Pendley, interim head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to resign or be removed from office. Pendley lacks Senate approval to lead the agency. The letter cites Pendley’s direction to implement the agenda of public lands extremist groups, his conflicts of interest relating to his former law firm’s continued representation of opponents of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monuments designations, the movement of BLM headquarters personnel from Washington to western offices without congressional authorization, and his skewed leadership towards extractive industry.
“William Pendley is implementing his goal to eliminate federal public lands by directing his department to hand over control to local government entities, including those that seek to crush environmental protections and throw the door wide open to commercial exploitation,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Pendley’s direction to defer BLM’s law enforcement to local officials explicitly implements the policy agenda of the Constitutional Sheriffs, an organization affiliated with the Bundy movement that seeks to supplant federal laws and regulations on our western public lands.”
Pendley authored an op-ed in November directing federal law enforcement to allow local law enforcement to take the primary role in enforcing federal laws on federal public lands, in a major derogation of BLM law enforcement’s authority and a page out of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association playbook. He has also directed a mandatory relocation of senior BLM career employees from the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Pendley has pushed hard to move scores of HQ staff to Grand Junction in the heart of natural gas production in Western Colorado,” said Peter Jenkins of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “With no direct flights to DC it makes no sense – except to strengthen BLM’s ties to oil and gas production, harm oversight by Congress, and weaken the influence of the agency. Even worse, he is scattering other professional support staff all over the West.”
In October of 2019, Pendley issued a controversial statement that wild horses were the primary issue facing the BLM, angering conservationists who pointed to real crises facing the agency, including sage grouse declines, livestock overgrazing, cheatgrass spread, climate change, and many other problems.
“Putting Pendley in charge of the BLM is like the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Judi Brawer, Wild Places Program Director with WildEarth Guardians. “He will destroy the agency and the irreplaceable public lands in his charge.”
Pendley’s former law firm, Mountain States Legal Foundation, continues to represent local governments fighting to defend the gutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by the Trump Administration, and Pendley himself had been an attorney representing these groups prior to being appointed to lead the BLM. Pendley’s BLM has continued to pursue Monument management plans advancing the interests of his former clients.
“William Perry Pendley has essentially infiltrated the Bureau of Land Management to serve the corporations who want to dig, drill, and destroy our public lands for profit. He should have immediately removed himself from any decisions relating to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments decisions, but instead shielded his former clients and big polluters from environmental protections.” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Senior Legislative Representative for policy and legislation at Earthjustice. “Congress should remove Pendley from office as soon as possible if he won’t leave on his own.”
Pendley’s current appointment as Deputy Director by Secretary Bernhardt expires on January 3rd. The BLM Director, who would have full authority to exercise the responsibilities of that position once confirmed by the Senate, has not yet been nominated by the Trump Administration.