Montana's Democratic governor asked a federal judge Aug. 20 to take swift action to remove the Trump administration's chief steward of public lands, as the former industry attorney hangs onto the post despite the White House saying Aug. 15 that his nomination would be withdrawn.
Gov. Steve Bullock said William Perry Pendley's continuing leadership of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management undermines conservation efforts and is illegal because Pendley never had a Senate confirmation hearing.
The bureau oversees almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West, and regulates activities ranging from mining and oil extraction to livestock grazing and recreation.
Earlier this month, the entire Senate Democratic Caucus ― 45 Democrats and the chamber’s two independents ― sent a letter to the White House signaling they would vote against confirming William Perry Pendley, an anti-public lands extremist, to serve as permanent director of the Bureau of Land Management. The lawmakers called on President Donald Trump to nominate someone else for the job of overseeing 245 million acres of public land and the nation’s vast subsurface mineral resources.The White House announced days later, on Aug. 15, that Trump will withdraw Pendley’s nomination. But aside from getting vulnerable Senate allies out of having to vote up or down on the toxic nominee, the withdrawal is largely an empty gesture. That’s because Pendley will continue to maintain the director’s authority thanks to an order that he crafted and signed in May to keep himself at the helm of the bureau indefinitely.The Senate Democratic Caucus is far from satisfied. Late last week, after news of Pendley’s self-serving succession order broke, all 47 members signed onto a second letter urging Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to remove Pendley from the bureau’s leadership role, again citing his extreme anti-environmental views.
The decision is almost certainly influenced by the awkward position in which Pendley’s nomination put Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) ― two close Trump allies facing tough reelection bids. Both earned rare points with the conservation community with the passage of a major public lands package that they helped champion through Congress, and a vote to confirm Pendley would have undercut if not entirely spoiled that victory.Pendley has served as the bureau’s acting director for more than a year, and Trump officially nominated him in June to take on the position of director permanently. The announcement sparked major condemnation from environmental groups, which pointed to Pendley’s previous statements that seemed to put him wildly at odds with the goal of conserving public lands.
A former property rights lawyer, Pendley spent decades running the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative property rights organization that has pushed for the U.S. government to sell off millions of acres of federal land. “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in the National Review in 2016.
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