The Hill: Pendley says court decision ousting him from BLM has had 'no impact'

by Rebecca Beitsch

One of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) highest ranking officials said his ouster ordered by a federal judge last month “has no impact, no impact whatsoever” on his role within the department.

A Montana-based U.S. District Court judge ruled last month that William Perry Pendley “served unlawfully … for 424 days,” giving the Department of the Interior 10 days to justify why it shouldn’t throw out many of the decisions Pendley has made during his tenure.

In an interview with the Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, Pendley said the court ruling has changed little for him as he stays at the department by virtue of his official title as one of the department’s two deputy directors.

“I’m still here, I’m still running the bureau,” Pendley told the outlet. “I have always been, from day one.”

Pendley, who had served as the de-facto head of BLM for over a year, was only nominated to the position this summer, but the nomination was withdrawn shortly thereafter. Pendley has a long history of opposing federal ownership of public lands, and the entire Democratic caucus planned to oppose him – putting the spotlight on vulnerable Republicans up for reelection.

Last month several Democrats took to the House floor, demanding he be removed from the department due to views they see as being in conflict with the BLM mission along while expressing concern over comments Pendley has made about the Black Lives Matter movement and Native Americans.

“What does it say to voters that the Trump administration will break the law to try to keep Pendley in place? To try to keep someone running the BLM who doesn’t believe in public lands, who is racist against Native Americans? Every single decision Pendley has signed off on is now in legal jeopardy – it’s past time he is shown the door,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who organized the floor speeches, said in a statement to The Hill. “The Trump administration’s continued lawlessness, anti-public lands agenda, and needless chaos will be rejected by the American people.”

The suit from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) is just one of the two cases questioning the series of temporary orders, and later a change in the order of succession, that were used to justify Pendley’s authority.

Pendley said the court case, and Montana’s early victory, has had little impact on his working life.

“I have the support of the president. I have the support of the secretary of the Interior and my job is to get out and get things done to accomplish what the president wants to do – which means increase recreational opportunities on federal land and to increase opportunities for jobs, so we can recover back to where we were pre-pandemic,” Pendley told the outlet.

In the next phase of the case, Judge Brian Morris asked Montana and the Department of the Interior, which oversees BLM, to justify why the court shouldn’t throw out many of the decisions Pendley has made during his tenure.

Pendley’s comments to the Tribune conflict with the legal argument Interior made in the case earlier this week arguing that he has taken “no relevant acts” during his tenure that should be tossed by the court.

“The record shows that Mr. Pendley performed no action in connection” with the Montana land management plans the state objected to.

The process “was instead properly delegated to another BLM official under longstanding BLM practice,” Interior wrote in its brief late Monday.

In his Thursday interview Pendley defended BLM’s decision to repeatedly delegate authority to other BLM officials.

“It has been done for almost 30 years throughout all administrations,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats, over the decades, have said they will designate somebody who’s in the chain of command, as exercising the authority of the assistant secretary, or the director, so that person has the authority to sign something, and we can move on with life.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Pendley’s comments show he is ignoring the rule of law.

“William Perry Pendley’s illegal decision to ignore the rule of law confirms my worst suspicions about him and shows he will do anything to maintain power in service of his long-held goal of selling off our lands and enriching his corporate allies,” Tester said in a statement to The Hill.

This desperate power grab should be met with strong, bipartisan condemnation from all of my colleagues. As I’ve said before, Pendley needs to be removed from his position.”