William Perry Pendley, the conservative lawyer who supports the selling of millions of acres of federal lands to Western states, has been formally designated as the Bureau of Land Management’s acting director — a move that is certain to rile congressional Democrats and environmental groups.
Interior Secretary David Bernhard today signed an amended secretarial order granting Pendley the authority to perform all "functions, duties and responsibilities" of BLM director through Sept. 30 — the last day of the fiscal 2019 budget cycle.
Pendley, who until December served as president of the conservative law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation, has risen to BLM’s top spot only two weeks after he was appointed BLM deputy director of policy and programs (Greenwire, July 15).
Pendley, for at least the next two months, will lead a bureau that manages 245 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West, and employs nearly 10,000 people. His appointment comes at a critical time, with the Interior Department announcing two weeks ago that it plans to relocate BLM’s Washington, D.C.-based headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., with dozens of other senior leadership positions fanning out to cities in Utah, Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico.
E&E News was the first to report last week that Pendley had risen to the top political post at BLM but that it was unclear whether he was actually in the acting director’s post at the time (Greenwire, July 25).
Pendley replaces Casey Hammond, Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, who until last week had been serving a two-month stint as a de facto acting director. Bernhardt had given Hammond the power to exercise all "functions, duties and responsibilities" of the BLM director through the end of this month.
But that detail, approved by Bernhardt in an amended secretarial order last May, has ended. Hammond returned to his senior post at Interior; he is no longer listed on BLM’s webpage as leading the bureau on an acting basis.
Representatives with Interior and BLM did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
But in his amended secretarial order signed today, Bernhardt wrote that the move "is intended to ensure uninterrupted management and execution of the duties of these vacant non-career positions during the Presidential transition pending Senate-confirmation of new non-career officials."
The change is the latest in an ongoing shuffling of senior BLM leadership that has continued since the opening months of the Trump administration in 2017.
President Trump has yet to nominate a BLM director for Senate confirmation.
But the move to give Pendley the keys to BLM is likely to cause some uproar, even though it comes just days after the House and its Democratic majority adjourned for the annual summer recess.
For one, Pendley only started at the bureau on July 15.
While Pendley served as Interior deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals during the Reagan administration, he has not worked for Interior or any of its bureaus in decades.
Perhaps more significant, Pendley has recently advocated for the federal government to sell its federal lands to individual states in the West.
In January 2016, Pendley authored an opinion article in National Review in which he decried federal land ownership and argued the U.S. Constitution all but requires the federal government to sell the lands it owns in the West.
He listed states like Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Washington as having large amounts of federally owned land, while other states like New Hampshire and Michigan do not. "Something about this seems unfair," he wrote.
"The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," he wrote.
Pendley has also written books expressing similar views. Among them is "Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier." It chronicles the efforts of Western state leaders and residents to fight environmental laws, according to a profile of Pendley by the Property Rights Foundation of America.
A coalition of environmental groups today blasted Pendley’s appointment.
"The BLM manages some of the most revered places in Montana, and we now have someone in charge of the BLM who would prefer to sell those places off rather than do the job of caring for them on behalf of all Americans," said Kayje Booker, policy and advocacy director at Montana Wilderness Association, in a statement. "It’s hard to imagine anyone in this position more dangerous than William Perry Pendley."
Pendley, until December, was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which was founded in 1977 to counter litigation from environmental activists. The foundation’s first president was James Watt, who later became President Reagan’s Interior secretary, and it counts Gale Norton, President George W. Bush’s Interior secretary, among its former employees (Greenwire, Jan. 2, 2014).
Pendley, until leaving the foundation last year, represented Garfield and Kane counties in Utah as defendant-intervenors in a lawsuit challenging Trump’s decision to slash the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Greenwire, Jan. 14).
Pendley’s Twitter handle is @Sagebrush_Rebel — a reference to the "Sagebrush Rebellion," a grassroots movement in the late 1970s that protested federal land management policies under the Carter administration.
Pendley’s last Twitter post was July 9. "Taking a break. Thanks for following," he wrote.