INTERIOR

Bernhardt extends Pendley's run as acting BLM chief

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order today keeping William Perry Pendley at the helm of the Bureau of Land Management for an additional four months and appointing two others to unfilled positions at the Interior Department.

Pendley will stay on as BLM chief through Jan. 3. Bernhardt also named David Vela, the former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, as acting director of the National Park Service and Lanny Erdos as acting director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

E&E News reported last week that Vela would replace P. Daniel Smith as acting NPS director (Greenwire, Sept. 27). President Trump nominated Vela for the position last year, but he has not been confirmed by the Senate.

Erdos joined the Interior Department in August as principal deputy director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (Greenwire, Aug. 27). Erdos was previously the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' mine lands and safety chief.

"Each of these leaders is dedicated to their position, and I'm confident in their abilities to further the progress made by this administration in service to the American people," Bernhardt said in a statement.

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Others already sitting in acting positions who are covered by Bernhardt's new order are:

  • Kate MacGregor, deputy Interior secretary.
  • Daniel Jorjani, Interior solicitor.
  • Jerold Gidner, special trustee for American Indians.
  • Margaret Everson, director, Fish and Wildlife Service.

But Pendley, the conservative lawyer and avowed sagebrush rebel, is for many the highlight of those covered by Bernhardt's order, which allows Pendley to perform the "functions, duties and responsibilities" of BLM director through the year.

Bernhardt in late July elevated Pendley's job title of deputy director of operations and programs to include "exercising authority of the director" through today (E&E News PM, July 29).

Bernhardt's new order comes amid growing speculation that President Trump may nominate Pendley for the Senate-confirmed position of BLM director. Though no announcement has been made, the secretarial order buys the White House time if indeed Pendley is being seriously considered for such a nomination.

His pending nomination for BLM director has been rumored for several weeks, with sources telling E&E News that Pendley had undergone a formal background check in anticipation of a nomination. And Pendley himself in the past couple of weeks has told some bureau officials that he "expected" to be nominated for BLM director, sources said.

Pendley, until last 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's past work as an attorney has been a source of controversy.

Until leaving the foundation last year, Pendley 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).

He only recently formally recused himself as an attorney in that case (Greenwire, Sept. 24).

Last week, Pendley shared with BLM employees a 17-page recusal list of dozens of companies, individuals and local governments, including Garfield and Kane counties (Greenwire, Sept. 25).

Democrats are urging Bernhardt to remove Pendley as BLM acting chief, saying his past views on federal lands make him unfit to lead the bureau that oversees 245 million acres of federal lands.

A group of 12 senators, led by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D), last week sent a letter to Bernhardt urging him to "terminate Mr. Pendley's acting director authority immediately" and support the presidential nomination of someone "with a true commitment to our public lands and waters" (Greenwire, Sept. 27).

Email: sstreater@eenews.net

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