Bullock sues to boot controversial public lands bureau director as he awaits confirmation

Bullock sues to boot controversial public lands bureau director as he awaits confirmation
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The controversial acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, is facing another lawsuit challenging his service as he awaits Senate confirmation.

Pendley, who previously advocated for selling off federal lands, was nominated to head the public lands bureau late last month after de facto leading it for more than a year through a series of temporary orders issued by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

A Monday suit, filed in Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockRepublicans uncomfortably playing defense 300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee Lincoln Project targets Senate races in Alaska, Maine, Montana with M ad buy MORE's (D) capacity as governor, challenges Pendley’s authority, arguing federal law prohibits acting directors from serving while their nomination is pending.

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“I’m taking this action today not just to block William Perry Pendley’s further illegitimate oversight of the bureau, but also to ensure that this unconstitutional abuse of executive powers does not become commonplace under any administration in the future,” Bullock said in a release.

The suit seeks an injunction to boot Pendley from his role.

The Montana suit follows another filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project over the continued temporary appointments — something they argued violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by keeping Pendley in his post beyond 210 days. 

In response, the Department of the Interior announced in early June that Pendley would continue to serve pursuant to “updated succession orders” that would allow him to stay in the role indefinitely.

However, the Interior Department refused to provide a copy of the new orders, leaving unclear the breadth of the directive leaving Pendley in power.

Nominating Pendley for the job — where he faces a rough road to confirmation — was designed to sidestep legal issues.

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But the Montana suit argues “Pendley’s position has recently become illegal in a new way.”

“Pendley himself holds extreme, unpopular views on public lands and has acted in accordance with those views during his tenure as acting director. His nomination, therefore, is likely to languish in the Senate for months and extend his unlawful tenure as acting director through the remainder of this presidential term,” the suit states.

“The Federal Vacancies Reform Act bars Presidents from circumventing the Constitution by putting people in charge of federal agencies before they are Senate-confirmed. But that is precisely what has happened here.”

Bullock, briefly a 2020 contender for president, has since pivoted to running for the Senate, challenging vulnerable incumbent Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesThe Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project California: Dual threats of wildfire and COVID-19 underscore need for prevention MORE (R-Mont.).

“This is a frivolous and politically motivated claim that has no legal standing. Gov. Bullock should do a little legal research before wasting everyone's time with this nonsense,” Interior said in a statement, arguing “there are no issues raised” by Pendley’s tenure.