William Perry Pendley — a known anti-public lands zealot and acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — is pushing for an official nomination to lead the BLM. As with other officials leading Interior, Pendley is too extreme and conflicted to lead BLM, threatening millions of acres of America’s public lands and natural resources.
It is no secret that the Trump administration has had trouble filling Senate-confirmable positions, even at the highest level. At Interior, Sec. Bernhardt has issued what is presumed to be an unprecedented 29th version of a memo re-delegating authority to top-level positions that have never been fulfilled, including directors of the National Park Service, BLM, and Fish and Wildlife Service. But bringing Pendley into the Interior Department’s leadership folds has been widely criticized by Senators, former Interior officials, career public servants, editorial boards, and public land users alike. And, there is a good reason for all the objections to his contentious reign.
The BLM is a critical lands management agency, overseeing some 246 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of America’s mineral resources, which is currently being led by Pendley in an “acting” capacity. Since his appointment, reporting on Pendley has revealed a record that includes calling for the elimination of all federal public lands, the complete obliteration of the Antiquities Act, the sale of all BLM lands east of the Mississippi, as well as calling immigrants a “cancer.” Pendley touts a 17-page recusal list, detailing over 50 conflicts of interest and some 57 entities that he should be ethically dismissed from working on. In total, there are few, if any, decisions or policies in front of the BLM that Pendley wouldn’t be recused from working on.
Amidst Pendley’s appointment unease, the BLM itself is facing a potentially existential threat: moving top-level decision-makers out of its long-standing Washington D.C. headquarters to a new headquarters in Colorado and dispersing remaining employees to field offices across the West. Though the plan has long been toyed with, it wasn’t until this July that Interior officially announced the move. Since the announcement, the move’s details have been confusing at best and totally absent at worst.
Moving the BLM west was partially claimed as a push to “localize” public lands control — a common dog whistle when it comes to transferring public lands, risking their sale. It’s exactly what Pendley has spent his career advocating for — a position that was previously contradictory to the administration but even that position has devolved under Bernhardt’s corrupt regime.
We all know the real intent behind the move — made clear by Trump’s Chief of Staff — but even if the administration is pushing to cede control of public lands to local governments, Pendley is recused from at least five local entities. How can the person charged with leading the BLM communicate and work with local authorities and groups across the West when his relevant past leaves him too conflicted to do so ethically?
Perhaps most surprising about Pendley’s temporary appointment to lead the BLM and his current bid to permanently lead the same agency is Pendley’s critical view of the Trump administration and President Trump himself. When comparing Pres. Trump to Reagan, Pendley was sure to note that Trump was ‘not fit to pull off Reagan’s boots.’ Trump hasn’t viewed criticism kindly in the past, but Pendley recently scored the support of a key Western Senator, Steve Daines (R-MT), that could help bolster his nomination bid.
William Pendley is, simply put, not to be trusted. He has long been an advocate for the sale, transfer, and even elimination of America’s public lands. But as soon as he joined the Trump administration, he claimed he would “follow marching orders.” If his corruption and conflicts of interest weren’t enough to rule him out, his previous extremist views and affiliations to fringe groups should. The Trump administration would be wise to end their self-inflicted wounds by disavowing Pendley’s nomination push and immediately remove him from any post within the federal government as soon as possible.