West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) said he will strongly oppose President Trump's nominee for director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, saying he "is not fit" to lead the bureau after previous statements by Pendley disparaging social justice issues came to light.
"At this moment in our nation's history, the Bureau of Land Management and every agency need leaders who are willing to listen and lead with compassion," said Manchin, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking member. "Mr. Pendley's comments about the Black Lives Matter movement make it clear he is not fit to do so."
Pendley wrote a 2017 op-ed in the Washington Examiner in which he dismissed the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement as based on a "terrible lie" involving the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, who was Black, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. (Greenwire, June 29).
"Michael Brown never raised his hands in surrender and cried, 'Hands up; Don't shoot,'" Pendley wrote. "We know the political movement spawned August 9, 2014, Black Lives Matter, was built on that terrible lie — a lie the mainstream media perpetrated, that cowardly politicians, fearful of saying 'all lives matter,' emboldened."
Pendley linked to the op-ed at least twice in posts from his Twitter handle @Sagebrush_Rebel.
He did so most recently in May 2019, two months before Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed him to be BLM's deputy director of policy and programs, and two weeks later its acting chief.
Pendley was already expected to face stiff opposition from Senate Democrats over past comments about federal land management while serving as president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation.
Among them is an oft-cited January 2016 opinion article in the National Review in which Pendley argued the U.S. Constitution all but requires the federal government to sell the lands it owns in the West.
Manchin acknowledged those views, adding that Pendley's past statements supporting the federal government selling off public lands disqualify him from ever leading BLM.
"His past comments calling the Endangered Species Act 'a joke,' comparing global warming to the existence of unicorns and arguing the federal government should sell off its public lands are disqualifying," Manchin said.
President Trump formally submitted the Pendley nomination to the Senate last night. He had announced on Friday he planned to nominate Pendley — his first nominee for BLM director in nearly four years in office (E&E News PM, June 26).
The last permanent BLM director was Neil Kornze, who held the post during the final three years of the Obama administration.
Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told E&E News yesterday her committee would schedule a confirmation hearing soon after Trump formalized the nomination.
Murkowski also acknowledged that the conservative lawyer will have to answer questions about his past before he can be approved to oversee BLM, which manages about 245 million acres of public lands.
"Some of the things that he's written and said will require a level of discussion, probably in committee, with my members," she said, without referring to any particular statement. "So we'll be looking at that."
A key to Pendley winning confirmation will be moderate Republicans like Colorado's Cory Gardner and Montana's Steve Daines, both of whom face tough reelection bids.
Murkowski's vote is also critical, and she was noncommittal yesterday when discussing Pendley and his nomination.
For his part, Pendley has defended his past public statements and opinions, explaining them away as "irrelevant" to his work today at BLM.
Pendley said last year he'd welcome Trump's nomination and, presumably, the chance to defend his record (Greenwire, Nov. 11, 2019).
Pendley, in a statement issued by BLM on Monday to E&E News, referenced the recent killing of George Floyd, who is Black, by a white Minneapolis police officer. The Floyd killing has sparked nationwide protests demanding police reform.
Pendley's statement offered support for Trump's "instruction that the Justice Department expedite its civil rights investigation into Mr. Floyd's death."
The statement adds: "Because I have never shied away from controversy, I spent the past 30 years of my legal career defending the constitutional rights of those whose liberties were infringed upon by the government. As an officer of the court, I took it as my solemn duty to seek liberty and justice for all. I remain steadfast in that pursuit."
Reporter Timothy Cama contributed.