Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee

Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee
© Courtesy Department of Interior

All 47 members of the Senate's Democratic caucus signed a letter opposing President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), citing William Perry Pendley’s history of controversial comments and opposition to federal ownership of public lands.

In a letter to Trump, lawmakers ask the president to nominate a “new, qualified candidate” to lead the agency responsible for nearly 250 million acres of public lands.

“Mr. Pendley’s public record, including his advocacy for reducing public lands and access to them, routine attempts to undermine tribes, and climate change denial makes him unfit for the position,” they wrote in a letter led by Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE (D-N.M.).

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“[BLM] needs a leader who reflects the values of the American people and their support for access to public lands. Mr. Pendley’s record lays bare his decades of opposition to those values.”

Pendley, already the de facto director of BLM, has been serving in that role for over a year through a series of temporary orders, and more recently a supposed change in the Department of the Interior’s succession orders. His authority through those moves is currently being questioned by a lawsuit.

Pendley has a long history of advocating for selling off public lands, penning books with titles such as “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier” and “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier.” 

Lawmakers also see his comments denying climate change and arguments against the legal precedent that views tribal members as members of sovereign political entities, rather than as a racial group, as disqualifying.

“Mr. Pendley has on many prior occasions mischaracterized, mocked, or undermined tribes’ experiences, rights, and religion,” they write. 

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“Mr. Pendley’s problematic history is particularly concerning given the Bureau’s statutory and treaty responsibilities regarding consultations with tribes.”

In 2017, Pendley tweeted that climate change is like unicorns in that “neither exists.”

The White House defended its choice.

"William Perry Pendley is a true son of the West, an outdoorsman, a Marine, and an accomplished public servant. His careful acting stewardship of the bureau to its new home in Grand Junction, Colorado, has helped transfer jobs outside the swamp, while maintaining smooth operations throughout. The White House fully supports his expeditious confirmation by the Senate," spokesman Judd Deere said by email.

The Department of the Interior said Democrats’ letter “is just another sad attempt to smear the reputation of a dedicated 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.”

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While Democrats are unified in their opposition, a vote on his nomination could prove a difficult choice for vulnerable Republican senators, particularly those in Western states.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo.) has championed Pendley and Interior’s decision to move the BLM to Grand Junction, Colo., the biggest city in the right-leaning Western front of the state.

Gardner, along with Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Daines to introduce bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to troops killed in Afghanistan Powell reappointment to Fed chair backed by Yellen: report MORE (R-Mont.) are both facing tight races and have worked to market themselves as public lands champions. The two are among the sponsors of the Great American Outdoors Act, which could funnel billions to national parks and public lands.

Now, both are facing ad campaigns questioning how they will vote on Pendley.

Conservation Colorado bought a full-page ad in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel slated for Sunday and has also launched a website on Pendley. Montana Conservation Voters did its own six-figure ad buy calling Pendley an “anti-public lands zealot” and urging Daines to vote against him.

Updated at 4:51 p.m.