Advocate for selling off public lands will remain BLM's acting director

Advocate for selling off public lands will remain BLM's acting director
© Courtesy Department of Interior

A newly signed secretarial order means acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director William Pendley will stay in his position despite objections from lawmakers over his anti-government philosophy.

The order signed Monday by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt leaves Pendley in that position through Jan. 3. 

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Pendley is a controversial figure in conservation circles given his longtime advocacy for selling off public lands. His ethics pledge includes a 17-page recusal list that shows his ties with a number of industries that stand to benefit from greater access to public lands. 

On Thursday, a dozen Democratic lawmakers voiced their opposition to Pendley, asking Bernhardt to withdraw Pendley’s acting status as director of BLM.

“As the BLM considers a major reorganization, there is no reason for this effort to be led by an Acting Director who spent his career attempting to dismantle the agency,” the senators wrote, saying the role should go to someone who believes in multiple balanced uses of the agency.

They nodded to a quote from Pendley that called the federal government “the world’s worst neighbor.”

“We can think of no worse neighbor than one who spent the last thirty years trying to burn down the neighborhood,” the senators said.

Many of those senators are also opposed to Interior’s plans to uproot nearly all of BLM’s Washington-based staff, moving 27 employees to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., and spreading another 300 employees at existing offices across the West. The relocation would leave just 61 employees in Washington, something critics say would functionally dismantle the agency.

“As the BLM considers a major reorganization, there is no reason for this effort to be led by an Acting Director who spent his career attempting to dismantle the agency,” the senators wrote.

Bernhardt’s order is just the latest that keep a rotating cast of characters in charge of various Interior functions on an acting basis. Critics argue it may be illegal and avoids having controversial nominees face senatorial scrutiny.

Pendley is one figure who would likely face heavy questioning from lawmakers. His recently released recusal list shows he would be in a position to regulate or impact a number of former clients.

The 60 entities outlined by Pendley include at least seven energy companies he is recused from dealing with, including the National Mining Association and various oil companies. 

The list also shows he was involved with a number of farm and ranch groups, which sometimes advocate for greater access to public lands, and helicopter tour companies along with the United States Air Tour Association, which offer tours over national parks.