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Western Democrats Take Aim At Acting BLM Chief Pendley

William Perry Pendley
Bureau of Land Management
William Perry Pendley

The president’s controversial nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management is facing renewed pushback from Western lawmakers.

On Monday, Montana’s Democratic governor Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit to block William Perry Pendley from using the powers of a BLM director. Bullock, who is also running for a Senate seat, argues that it’s illegal for Pendley to use that authority without Senate confirmation, citing the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the U.S. Constitution.

Administration officials responded that Pendley wasn’t officially named acting director, though the BLM website states that Pendley is still "exercising authority of the director" in its organizational chart. 

The suit echoes a legal challenge filed in May by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, and the Western Watersheds Project seeking to oust both Pendley and David Vela, the acting director of the National Park Service.

The White House in late June announced President Donald Trump's intent to nominate Pendley, a year after Bernhardt installed him as acting director.

Meanwhile, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, along with several other Democratic senators from Western states, penned a letter calling for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to quickly take up Pendley's nomination, saying Pendley's "advocacy for selling off our public lands flies in the face of the agency's role in managing more than 245 million acres of public lands for the American public's benefit."

Harry Barnes, the immediate past chairman of the Blackfeet Tribe, joined a press call Tuesday to talk about Pendley’s nomination.

"[Pendley] has absolutely no regard for tribal sovereignty and he has no idea what consultation means with regards to Native American tribes," Barnes said. 

Pendley's views on the Black Lives Matter movement has been cited as another possible reason for senators to vote against his confirmation. As E&E News reported in late June, Pendley wrote an op-ed in 2017 in which he dismissed the movement as based on "a lie that spread like cancer through inner cities endangering men and women in blue and the citizens who look to them for protection."

That prompted The Daily Sentinel newspaper in Grand Junction, Colorado – to which Pendley controversially moved the BLM's headquarters last year – to oppose his nomination. Even Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner wouldn't commit to backing Pendley during a recent interview with The Colorado Sun.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck
Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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