The White House on Friday announced its intention to formally nominate William Perry Pendley to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management, which he has directed in an acting capacity for nearly a year.
Pendley, who must be confirmed by the Senate, is the BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has repeatedly delegated the authority of BLM director to Pendley since the department hired him last July.
“He’s doing a great job, including acquiring more than 25,000 acres of public land for expanded recreational access,” Bernhardt said in a statement Friday.
Environmental groups reacted angrily to the announcement. The National Wildlife Federation said in a statement that putting Pendley at the helm “is like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which must approve Pendley’s nomination before it would go to the full Senate, has not yet received his nomination papers and has not yet set a date for a confirmation hearing, committee spokeswoman Grace Jang said Friday.
Pendley oversees the BLM, which is key to President Donald Trump’s fossil fuels-focused energy agenda. The bureau oversees more than 240 million acres of federal land and minerals, mostly in the West, and is in charge of all federal oil, gas, and coal leasing nationwide.
Before joining the BLM, Pendley, whose Twitter handle is “@sagebrush-rebel,” was known for his opposition to federal ownership of public land and national monuments.
He served as president of the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation for nearly 30 years until 2018. The foundation has a record of suing the federal government on behalf of the oil, gas, livestock, and timber industries for access to public lands.
Over the last year, Pendley has overseen the relocation of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., and has helped to implement rules and policies that benefit the oil and gas industry, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents companies operating on BLM land.
“We needed a full BLM director for some time,” she said. “Glad to hear they have moved forward.”
In September, Pendley submitted a 17-page recusal list of private companies, organizations, and individuals he represented during his time at Mountain States, including oil and gas, mining, livestock, and tourism companies and associations.
The same month, 12 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), wrote to Bernhardt calling for him to remove Pendley as acting BLM director because of his previous calls for the federal government to sell off its public lands.
“Over the course of his career, he’s argued for eliminating the Endangered Species Act, abolishing the Antiquities Act, and repealing laws that safeguard sportsmen’s access,” the senators wrote. “Keeping Mr. Pendley atop the BLM is an affront to all Americans who believe in the balanced, multiple-use and sustained yield mission of the agency.”
Speaking at a congressional hearing in September, Pendley said he doesn’t advocate for the “wholesale” sell-off of federal lands. He also has said his personal opinion on public lands is irrelevant.
Bernhardt’s repeated re-delegation of authority of the BLM director sparked a lawsuit in early June filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project, both environmental groups.
“Given the fact that senators have already expressed official reservations about William Perry Pendley and cited his views as extreme, it seems difficult to believe he would actually be confirmed by the Senate to be the head of the BLM,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.
Molvar said Friday afternoon that he had just been informed of Pendley’s nomination and is unsure what the next steps related to the lawsuit might be.
“Our inclination at WWP would be to make sure that William Perry Pendley isn’t making decisions for the agency in the interim,” Molvar said.