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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 TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump 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 MurkowskiGOP senator defends Cheney, Murkowski after Trump rebuke Trump promises to travel to Alaska to campaign against Murkowski GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill 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."

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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 BullockProgressives' majority delusions politically costly Overnight Health Care: CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions | Cuomo faces rising scrutiny over COVID-19 nursing home deaths | Biden officials move to begin rescinding Medicaid work requirements Montana governor lifts state mask mandate MORE (D).

A vote on Pendley’s nomination could put some vulnerable Republicans, including Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesProgressives' majority delusions politically costly Susan Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (R-Mont.) and Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 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.