300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee

300 green groups say Senate has 'moral duty' to reject Trump's public lands nominee
© Courtesy Department of Interior

More than 300 environmental groups are calling on senators to vote against President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), arguing William Perry Pendley should be disqualified because of his history of controversial comments and opposition to federal ownership of public lands.

Pendley was nominated at the end of June but has been serving as the agency's acting director since July 2019 through a series of temporary orders that have since been challenged in court.

Pendley’s presence at the BLM sparked immediate pushback from critics who cited his earlier support for selling off public lands.

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“Mr. Pendley’s public record over decades both in and outside of government have made abundantly clear that he is abjectly unfit to lead any government agency and particularly the BLM,” the groups wrote in a letter Monday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has not yet set a date for his confirmation hearing.

The groups, which consist of almost every major U.S. environmental organization like the Natural Resource Defense Council and Sierra Club, as well as a handful of civil rights groups, said the Senate has a “constitutional and moral duty to reject the nomination.”

They added that his disqualifications include “radical anti-conservation positions, a deeply held belief antithetical to the agency’s mission that public lands should be privatized, virtually unprecedented conflicts of interest and ethical issues, a history of supporting anti-government extremists, and a track record of dismantling the very agency he is tasked with managing.”

Pendley has written a number of books with titles like “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Frontier” and “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier.”

The green groups also took issue with previous comments by Pendley regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.

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In a November 2017 Washington Examiner op-ed, Pendley wrote that “Michael Brown never raised his hands in surrender and cried, 'Hands up; Don't shoot.’ We know the political movement spawned August 9, 2014, Black Lives Matter, was built on that terrible lie,” he said, criticizing those fearful of saying "all lives matter.’”

When asked for comment on the letter from green groups, an agency spokesperson told The Hill: “This is another laughable attack by radical interest groups to smear the reputation of a public servant and former Marine who is one of the most highly qualified individuals ever to be considered for the position of Bureau of Land Management Director. Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his position at the BLM, and we look forward to working with the Senate on his confirmation.”

Some Democrats have called for the Senate to quickly consider Pendley's nomination.

"After nearly a year as Acting Director, Mr. Pendley's formal nomination is long overdue, and the public deserves the opportunity to hold him accountable for his record of undermining our public lands, clean water, and jobs that rely on both," nine Democratic senators wrote in a July 21 letter, spearheaded by Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP aims to confirm Trump court pick by Oct. 29: report Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot Pence defends Trump's 'obligation' to nominate new Supreme Court justice MORE (R-Alaska).

"We respectfully ask that you work with Mr. Pendley to hold a hearing as soon as you receive his paperwork so his record can be vetted before the American public."

Pendley is likewise facing two separate suits challenging the validity of his tenure in office, the most recent one filed by Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race MORE (D).

A vote on Pendley’s nomination could put some vulnerable Republicans, including Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesTrump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? MORE (R-Mont.) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerOvernight Health Care: US coronavirus deaths hit 200,000 | Ginsburg's death puts future of ObamaCare at risk | Federal panel delays vote on initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution The Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Senate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot MORE (R-Colo.), in a tight spot. Gardner in particular has been supportive of the BLM’s plans to relocate all but 61 of its Washington-based career staff to new agency headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo.

Ethics have also been a source of controversy during Pendley’s time at the BLM. His lengthy recusal list highlights 60 entities where he would have a conflict of interest, including at least seven energy companies and groups he must abstain from dealing with, such as the National Mining Association and certain oil companies.

The environmental groups characterized some of Pendley’s ties as “anti-government extremists” and “anti-public lands extremists.”

“Mr. Pendley has built a career dedicated to undermining public lands. For nearly 30 years Mr. Pendley was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), where he frequently sued federal agencies on behalf of extractive industry interests to challenge conservation policies and regulations. As a result, Mr. Pendley has a nearly unprecedented number of conflicts of interest, which make his ability to lead this agency in an unbiased way impossible,” the letter states.