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Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal

Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal
© Courtesy Department of Interior

The entire Senate Democratic caucus is calling on the Trump administration to remove the acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) now that his nomination to lead the agency has been withdrawn.

The White House confirmed earlier this month they would withdraw the nomination of William Perry Pendley to lead the agency. Perry was a controversial choice to lead the agency given his opposition to federal ownership of public lands.

Pendley, who has already served at the BLM for more than a year, remains in his post much as he did before his nomination hit a wall — through a series of temporary delegations and other orders whose validity has been questioned by legal experts.

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“For the same reasons that Mr. Pendley is unfit to be confirmed as director, he is unfit to exercise the authority of the director without being confirmed, and we ask that you remove Mr. Pendley from this position,” Democrats wrote to the Department of the Interior late Friday in their second caucus-wide letter on Pendley.

Pendley has long advocated for the selling of 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.”

Withdrawing his nomination spares vulnerable Republican senators from taking a tough vote that was already generating attack ads on the campaign trail.

But leaving him in place as the acting head generates many of the same legal questions that may have pushed the administration to finally formally nominate Pendley after a year on the job.

The Department of the Interior has turned to succession orders to justify Pendley’s authority to remain in the job, but legal experts told The Hill they are insufficient as Pendley signed the order himself, effectively delegating himself power.  

“It is the ultimate in bootstrapping because Pendley, who is in my view not serving legally in this job, is naming himself at the top in the order of succession,” Nina Mendelson, a professor of law at the University of Michigan and an expert on administrative law, told The Hill last week.

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Experts also believe his time in office violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which requires filling vacant roles within 210 days.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to request for comment Monday but has previously backed Pendley’s tenure.

“Mr. Pendley continues to lead the Bureau of Land Management as deputy director for programs and policy," the department told The Hill last week. 

“There are no issues raised by the Vacancies Reform Act when it comes to the important work Mr. Pendley continues to perform on behalf of the American people.”

Democrats see other issues beyond Pendley’s opposition to public lands, including comments questioning climate change and about the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.

“Mr. Pendley’s long public record of advocacy for selling off public lands and reducing access to them, attempts to undermine tribes and tribal sovereignty, and denial of climate change make his beliefs and actions antithetical to either role,” lawmakers wrote in the letter spearheaded by Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichBottom line Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal MORE (D-N.M.).