Temporary Bureau of Land Management leader not taking permanent position

Image of a Bureau of Land Management brush fire truck, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

SEATTLE (AP) — President Donald Trump intends to withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management, a senior administration official said Saturday – drawing praise from some environmentalists who insisted the longtime advocate of selling federal lands should not be overseeing them.

In this Oct. 11, 2019 photo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William Perry Pendley speaks at a conference for journalists in Fort Collins, Colorado. | Photo by Matthew Brown, Associated Press, St. George News

Pendley, a former oil industry and property rights attorney from Wyoming, has been leading the agency for more than a year under a series of temporary orders from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Democrats alleged the temporary orders were an attempt to skirt the nomination process, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and conservation groups have filed lawsuits to have Pendley removed from office.

Trump announced Pendley’s nomination to become the bureau’s director in June. A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed Saturday that the president intended to withdraw that nomination.

“Good!” Bullock, a Democrat, tweeted Saturday. “William Perry Pendley wants to sell off our public lands – and has no business being in charge of them.”

Earlier in the week, the BLM withdrew an attempted sale of land between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Moab to oil and gas interests.

The bureau oversees nearly a quarter-billion public acres in the U.S. West and much of the nation’s onshore oil and gas development.

The White House did not offer an explanation for the decision, which is not expected to become official until the Senate returns to session. The Interior Department said in a statement that the president makes staffing decisions and that Pendley continues leading the agency as deputy director for programs and policy.

Pendley, who in a 2017 essay argued that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” spent three decades as president of the nonprofit Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has worked on behalf of ranchers, oil and gas drillers, miners and others seeking to use public lands for commercial gain.

The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Among the cases Pendley worked on was one challenging grizzly bear protections on national forest land. In another, he sought to validate an energy developer’s claim to drill for oil on land considered sacred by the Blackfeet Indian Tribe near Glacier National Park in Montana. A federal appeals court rejected the effort two months ago.

The author of books that include “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier,” he has criticized environmentalists as extremists and expressed support for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose family has engaged in armed standoffs with federal agents.

In his announcement of the nomination, Trump said Pendley had “worked to increase recreational opportunities on and access to our Nation’s public lands, heighten concern for the impact of wild horses and burros on public lands, and increase awareness of the Bureau’s multiple-use mission.”

The Interior Department has disputed the notion that Pendley wants to sell off federal lands, saying the Bureau of Land Management has acquired 25,000 acres under his leadership.

In his position at the agency, Pendley has overseen the relocation of most of the bureau’s jobs from Washington to various locations in the West, including its new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado – a move conservationists consider an effort to weaken the agency.

The agency has also sought to ease rules for oil and gas drilling that were adopted under the Obama administration. One recent proposal, which would streamline requirements for measuring and reporting oil and gas produced from federal land, is projected to save energy companies more than $130 million over the next decade.

“William Perry Pendley has been unfit to lead the Bureau of Land Management every day since he was appointed acting director in 2019,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in an emailed statement. “The fact that he was nominated this June and not withdrawn until millions of Americans and elected officials spoke out illustrates the wrongheaded priorities of this administration.”

Written by GENE JOHNSON with contributions from AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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