On Sept. 25 a federal judge said that William Perry Pendley, who has served as the acting director of the BLM for more than a year without Senate confirmation, must be removed from his post. Now some conservation groups are calling for the DOI to vacate decisions and regulations authorized by Pendley.
In response to a lawsuit brought against Pendley by Montana Governor Steve Bullock, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that Pendley had been in his office illegally for 424 days and should be relieved of his duties. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act stipulates that acting directors cannot serve for more than 210 days without a vote in the Senate. Under pressure this summer President Trump formally nominated Pendley, but quickly retracted that nomination when a large group of Senators signaled their hostility to Pendley’s leadership. Yet for two months after, Pendley still remains in his acting role.
The Department of the Interior quickly appealed Pendley’s ouster. DOI spokesman Conner Swanson called the ruling “an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law.” Many conservation groups and tribes, however, cheered the removal of a former oil and mining industry lobbyist, who has endorsed the outright sale of public lands, from the head of the largest land management agency by acreage in the country.
While Pendley’s future is decided in the courts, a collection of 58 conservation and environmental groups demanded this week that a number of consequential actions and decisions he made and authorized must be annulled since he was serving in an illegal capacity.
“A federal judge has ruled that William Perry Pendley was illegally installed as the director of the Bureau of Land Management, which means that all of his decisions during that time were made illegally,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Secretary Bernhardt needs to scrap all Bureau of Land Management plans, decisions, and regulations over the past 14 months that bear Mr. Pendley’s signature or influence so they can be properly done over by a legally confirmed director of the agency.”
In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, NWF and dozens of other signatories said that any “function or duty” of the BLM director that was performed by Mr. Pendley has no force or effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious. Among those actions they list BLM resource and travel management plans, rulemakings, internal memos, guidelines, and oil and gas leases on BLM lands, especially those within prime sage grouse habitat.
The non-profits also called for a review of BLM decisions relating to oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other designated landscapes during Pendley’s tenure, as well as the relocation of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, which they say was questionable and non-transparent.
It remains to be seen how the federal appeals court will treat Judge Morris’ order to remove Pendley. Sec. Bernhardt publicly defended his appointment of the acting chief, saying Pendley’s critics would soon “be crushed.”
The Trump Administration has also argued that Pendley never actually performed any “relevant acts” in his time as director, so there is nothing to overturn. The rulings to follow may have implications for hunters, anglers, ecosystems across the vast BLM-managed lands, says MeatEater Conservation Director Ryan Callaghan.
“We have had an illegal employee that was never interviewed for his job despite widespread concerns regarding his ability to act responsibly in this position,” Callaghan said. “Despite this fact, our employee William Perry Pendley operated as the head of the BLM for 424 days until he was blocked by a U.S. District Court judge from continuing on. Yes, every move he made should be thoroughly audited.”