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Groups Ask Court to Remove Pendley as De Facto Lands Director

July 6, 2020, 4:17 PM

The Interior Department is violating federal law by continuing to give William Perry Pendley the authority of Bureau of Land Management director before the Senate confirms him in that position, two environmental groups allege in an amended lawsuit they seek to file in federal court.

In a supplemental complaint the groups asked to file as part of a May lawsuit, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to remove Pendley as de facto BLM director until the Senate confirms him. The White House last month said it would nominate Pendley for that role.

Federal law prohibits a nominee for a Senate-confirmed post to “act” in that position prior to confirmation. The groups allege that the Interior Department is unlawfully skirting the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and Administrative Procedure Act by not actually naming Pendley as an “acting” director.

The supplemental complaint would amend the groups’ May lawsuit, which alleged Pendley and David Vela—to whom Interior Secretary David Bernhardt gave the duties of National Park Service director—are unlawfully serving as chiefs of their agencies.

Bernhardt delegated the authority of BLM director to Pendley a year ago and extended that authority indefinitely on June 5. Pendley’s official title is BLM director of policy and programs. Vela, the deputy director of operations at the National Park Service, was first delegated the authorities of the agency’s chief last year.

Alleged ‘Secret Succession Order’

“A secret succession order does not pass either the laugh test or legal muster,” Peter Jenkins, PEER senior counsel, said in a statement. “Both of these officials remain completely illegitimate.”

The Interior Department denies all wrongdoing and plans to keep Pendley as BLM chief. The department didn’t immediately respond to questions about Vela.

“William Perry Pendley is not, and has never been, Acting BLM Director,” Interior spokesman Benjamin Goldey said Monday. “There are no issues raised by the Vacancies Reform Act when it comes to the important work Mr. Pendley continues to perform on behalf of the American people. We look forward to the Senate’s swift confirmation of Mr. Pendley.”

Pendley currently oversees one of the most powerful agencies within the Interior Department. The BLM is key to the Trump administration’s fossil fuels-focused energy agenda because it manages 246 million acres of federal land and all federally owned onshore oil, natural gas, and coal nationwide.

The case is Public Emps. for Envtl. Responsibility v. Bernhardt, D.D.C., 1:20-cv-01224, supplemental complaint 7/6/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergindustry.com

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