By Gene Johnson, The Associated Press
SEATTLE — President Donald Trump intends to withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management, a senior administration official said Saturday — much to the relief of environmentalists who insisted the longtime advocate of selling federal lands should not be overseeing them.
Pendley, a former oil industry and property rights attorney from Wyoming, has been acting as the director of the agency for more than a year under a series of temporary orders from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Democrats alleged the temporary orders were an attempt to skirt the nomination process, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and conservation groups have filed lawsuits to have Pendley removed from office.
Pendley was in Colorado on Friday speaking to reporters about the Grizzly Creek fire burning near Glenwood Springs. The blaze has scorched some BLM land.
Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner was facing pressure over Pendley’s nomination. He had refused to say if he would vote for him to lead the BLM.
“I look forward to a nomination process where we will have a lot of questions for Mr. Pendley,” Gardner told The Colorado Sun in recent weeks.
Gardner is facing a difficult reelection bid this year and his Democratic opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, had attacked his refusal to speak out against Pendley’s nomination.
Gardner reacted to the news about Pendley without addressing Pendley. Instead, he said he’ll continue fighting to ensure the BLM’s headquarters move to Grand Junction is fully completed.
Gardner said in a statement that he will fight to guarantee “the future leadership of the BLM will commit to ensuring Colorado remains the home of the BLM headquarters.”
Trump announced Pendley’s nomination to become the bureau’s director in June. A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed Saturday that the president intended to withdraw that nomination.
“Good!” Bullock, a Democrat, tweeted Saturday. “William Perry Pendley wants to sell off our public lands – and has no business being in charge of them.”
The bureau oversees nearly a quarter-billion public acres in the U.S. West and much of the nation’s onshore oil and gas development.
The White House did not offer an explanation for the decision, which is not expected to become official until the Senate returns to session. The Interior Department said in a statement that the president makes staffing decisions and that Pendley continues leading the agency as deputy director for programs and policy.
Pendley, who in a 2017 essay argued that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” spent three decades as president of the nonprofit Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has worked on behalf of ranchers, oil and gas drillers, miners and others seeking to use public lands for commercial gain.
Among the cases Pendley worked on was one challenging grizzly bear protections on national forest land. In another, he sought to validate an energy developer’s claim to drill for oil on land considered sacred by the Blackfeet Indian Tribe near Glacier National Park in Montana. A federal appeals court rejected the effort two months ago.
The author of books that include “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier,” he has criticized environmentalists as extremists and expressed support for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose family has engaged in armed standoffs with federal agents.
In his announcement of the nomination, Trump said Pendley had “worked to increase recreational opportunities on and access to our Nation’s public lands, heighten concern for the impact of wild horses and burros on public lands, and increase awareness of the Bureau’s multiple-use mission.”
The Interior Department has disputed the notion that Pendley wants to sell off federal lands, saying the Bureau of Land Management has acquired 25,000 acres under his leadership.
While acting as director, Pendley has overseen the relocation of most of the bureau’s jobs from Washington to various locations in the West, including its new headquarters in Grand Junction — a move conservationists consider an effort to weaken the agency.
Gardner helped make the BLM relocation to Grand Junction possible. He’s celebrated it as a boon for Colorado that will help ensure BLM workers will be closer to the lands they manage.
“People are moving there. I’ve met with people who have been relocated, at the BLM headquarters, and that mission is going to continue to grow in terms of its employee base and the leadership they play in public lands,” Gardner said.
The agency has also sought to ease rules for oil and gas drilling that were adopted under the Obama administration. One recent proposal, which would streamline requirements for measuring and reporting oil and gas produced from federal land, is projected to save energy companies more than $130 million over the next decade.
“William Perry Pendley has been unfit to lead the Bureau of Land Management every day since he was appointed acting director in 2019,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in an emailed statement. “The fact that he was nominated this June and not withdrawn until millions of Americans and elected officials spoke out illustrates the wrongheaded priorities of this administration.”
AP writer Aamer Madhani contributed from Bedminster, New Jersey. Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.