Trump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post

Trump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post

President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection MORE’s surprise pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management is expected to come under tough scrutiny during the Senate confirmation process, posing a test for vulnerable GOP senators.

The nominee, William Perry Pendley, has a record of opposing public land ownership while also dismissing the science behind climate change. He also has a 17-page recusal list highlighting the number of people, companies and advocacy groups he must avoid while working at the agency.

Trump’s decision to nominate Pendley, who has led the agency in an acting capacity for nearly a year, came as a surprise when the White House made the announcement last week. He’s been a lightning rod for public lands advocates who have long suspected that Trump hadn’t nominated him because he would fail to secure enough GOP support in the Senate.

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A first test on that front will come when he testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for his confirmation hearing. The panel has several Republicans who are up for reelection in western states, putting pressure on them to choose between bucking Trump or angering constituents who are public lands advocates.

The White House this week praised Pendley’s work 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.”

But in Colorado, where public lands have been a key issue in Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA Colorado Supreme Court signs off on new congressional map MORE’s reelection campaign, Pendley has received a tepid response.

Speaking with Colorado Public Radio, Gardner (R) said he would have “tough questions” for Pendley but didn’t say whether he supported him or whether his record was disqualifying.

A spokesperson for Gardner told The Hill that the senator “looks forward to fully reviewing Mr. Pendley’s record during the confirmation process.”

The spokesperson said Gardner was supportive of Pendley's oversight of the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo. The move, however, resulted in the loss of more than half the staff, even as the administration touted it as an opportunity to bring jobs to the state and position government employees closer to the lands they manage.

Gardner, as well as Montana Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBill honoring 13 service members killed in Afghanistan heads to Biden's desk The Memo: Much-criticized Trump policy puts Biden in a vise The good, bad, and ugly of Tester's Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act MORE (R), has made public lands a major reelection issue. The vulnerable senators have championed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide money for a popular conservation fund and address a maintenance backlog at national parks.

Both have stressed the importance of protecting public lands and access to them while advocating for the bill, which the Senate passed in a 73-25 vote on June 17.

Environmentalists argue it would be inconsistent for the two senators to back the conservation legislation and then vote for Pendley.

“It would be hard to square their leadership role in passing the Great American Outdoors Act with a vote in support of William Perry Pendley,” said Mike Saccone, a spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation.

Daines, who faces a challenge from Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockDark money group spent 0M on voter turnout in 2020 In Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line 65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (D), is also on the Energy and Natural Resources panel, which will examine and vote on Pendley’s nomination.

Committee Chair Lisa Murkwoski (R-Alaska) told The Hill in a statement that she was “committed to ensuring a thorough but fair process for all nominees who come before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee—including Mr. Pendley” after a question to her office about whether she’d support the nomination.

No date has been set for his confirmation hearing.

Spokespeople for several Republicans on the committee either did not answer questions about the nominee or did not say which way the senators will vote.

But moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin warns about inflation as Democrats pursue Biden spending bill Overnight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families MORE (W.Va.), the panel’s ranking member, are making their opposition clear.

“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 in a statement.

Pendley’s nomination sparked fierce backlash from conservationists, who have released a deluge of statements opposing his nomination in recent days.

Part of the reason Pendely is so controversial is a 2016 article he wrote for The National Review titled “The Federal Government Should Follow the Constitution and Sell Its Western Lands.”

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“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote at the time.

In 2011 he called man-made climate change “fiction,” and just last year implied on Twitter, using his “@Sagebrush_Rebel” handle, that climate change is “junk science.

He has also written that the Black Lives Matter movement was built on “a lie that spread like cancer through inner cities,” said illegal immigration was spreading like “a cancer” and claimed Islam was at war with America. 

“It really should be a no brainer to oppose him. The only thing William Perry Pendley, a self-appointed ‘sagebrush rebel’ has ever rebelled against is the essential idea that public lands should remain in public hands,” said Saccone. “That alone is disqualifying and should make this an easy call for these senators.”

His nomination also comes amid a lawsuit over Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s repeated temporary extensions of Pendley’s tenure as acting head of the bureau since he first took the position in July 2019.

The lawsuit argues it was illegal for the government to keep Pendley in his temporary role beyond the 210-day maximum set by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

Some local environmentalists say Pendley's nomination is a test for the vulnerable senators like Gardner.

"If Senator Gardner truly believes in what he's saying, that public lands belong to all Americans...then I would expect him to vote against Pendley and announce that sooner rather than later," said Conservation Colorado deputy director Jessica Goad.