BLM chief scorned ‘deep state,’ ‘Pocahontas,’ ESA ‘hammer’

By Jennifer Yachnin | 10/17/2019 01:23 PM EDT

Before joining the Trump administration to head the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley heaped plenty of disdain on his future federal colleagues in a paid speech, according to new documents.

Acting Bureau of Land Management chief William Perry Pendley testifying on Capitol Hill last month.

Acting Bureau of Land Management chief William Perry Pendley testifying on Capitol Hill last month. Francis Chung/E&E News

Self-proclaimed sagebrush rebel William Perry Pendley has never made a secret of his disdain for the federal government.

During his stint in the Interior Department under President Reagan, Pendley joked in 1981 that "one of the worst things about going to work for the administration is to be referred to as a ‘bureaucrat’" (Greenwire, Aug. 30).

And in the months before he returned to government service this year — joining the Bureau of Land Management as deputy director of policy and programs before taking the agency’s helm in an acting capacity — Pendley offered scorn for civil servants.


"I also wanted to convey to you that the deep state is alive," Pendley said in the transcript of a speech he gave last year to the Property Rights Foundation of America, referring to a conspiracy about federal bureaucrats who manipulate government policies to slow the Trump administration’s agenda. "So many of our friends believe that the battle is over, President Trump is doing good things."

During his remarks to the New York-based group, which aims to "protect and restore private property rights and defend local communities," Pendley also regaled the audience with tidbits about his time in the Reagan administration, his change of heart about President Trump — "I wasn’t a big fan. I’ll tell you candidly I wasn’t a big fan in those early days, but I am a believer today" — and his concerns about oil and gas leasing should another Democrat win the White House.

Perry reported that he received $1,500 for the speech in a newly disclosed financial form (Greenwire, Oct. 16).

Asked about whether Pendley still endorses the comments he made one year ago, Interior spokeswoman Carol Danko said: "As Deputy Director of BLM, Mr. Pendley serves at the pleasure of the President and the Secretary, and thus is fully committed to following their direction and advancing their positions and policy goals on behalf of the American people."

Oil and gas leasing

In remarks last week to the Society of Environmental Journalists, Pendley slammed Democratic presidential contenders’ vows to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands — deriding the proposals as "absolutely insane" (Greenwire, Oct. 11).

But in his remarks last year to the Property Rights Foundation of America, Pendley expressed concern that the Trump administration could itself be setting up leases it issues for failure.

Pendley pointed to the Justice Department’s decision to appeal a pair of 2018 court rulings requiring Interior to reinstate oil and gas leases near Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine area.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended the decision, asserting that drilling in the area would be "inappropriate" (E&E News PM, July 26).

Tribal organizations have long objected to drilling in the area near the Canadian border and bounded by the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell blocked the leases during the Obama administration.

But Pendley called the appeal "foolish," suggesting a victory would allow future White House occupants to invalidate oil and gas leases based on whims.

"All these oil and gas leases that Ryan Zinke has issued will be gone [snaps fingers] in a fortnight if Pocahontas becomes our president. I guess not likely now given her DNA results," Pendley said, apparently referring to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) with a slur that Trump often uses to criticize the Democratic presidential primary contender (E&E News PM, May 8).

Warren, who has claimed Native American heritage, released a DNA test last year indicating an ancestor "6-10 generations ago."

Pendley served as lead counsel for Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, the only driller still fighting the government’s attempts to cancel leases in the region.

"We’re waiting to see the other shoe drop. We’re waiting to see what the Trump administration does," said Pendley.

Earlier this month, Moncrief Oil and Gas Master LLC agreed to relinquish its lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area in a settlement with the Wilderness Society. The Justice Department had previously dropped its appeal in the case (Energywire, Oct. 2).

The Solenex case is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Bears in Harlem

According to the transcript of his remarks, Pendley also recalled a story about his work on behalf of a Montana rancher who was fined for killing a grizzly bear in 1989.

Pendley, who has previously deployed the tale, used the lawsuit — which successfully challenged a $5,000 fine at a cost he estimated at $250,000 over eight years — as an example of government overreach and to criticize the Endangered Species Act (Greenwire, Jan. 2, 2014). He told a similar anecdote at the property rights organization’s 2008 conference.

He asserted that the Montana rancher’s persecution would influence a man in Evanston, Wyo., to use pepper spray rather than a firearm when he faced a grizzly bear, resulting in injuries that required hospitalization.

"The man facing the most dangerous killing machine in North America is more afraid of the state? He’s actually thinking, ‘What is the government going to do when I kill this bear?’ instead of, ‘How long will I live while this bear is eating me?’ Whoa," Pendley said. "In a way, that’s the terrible part that you fear your government more than the most dangerous killing machine in North America."

Pendley went on to discuss his role in lawsuits over the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 decision to delist the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears, which drew successful challenges from environmentalists. The Interior Department is appealing that decision (Greenwire, Oct. 11).

"I’ve got clients who say, ‘I won’t let my herders go out in grizzly country with a firearm because I don’t want them prosecuted by the feds,’" Pendley said. "It’s like telling a cop who wants you to walk the beat in Harlem but you can’t carry a weapon because you may have to use it. It doesn’t make sense."

Pendley told the audience the ESA is "the biggest hammer that the federal government has in coming to take your property away."