Missoula Current: Tester pushes bill preventing DOJ from defending Pendley in Bullock case

by Martin Kidston

William Perry Pendley’s refusal to step down as acting head of the Bureau of Land Management in accordance with a court ruling last month has prompted Sen. Jon Tester to introduce legislation barring an appeal of Pendley’s case.

The Public Lands Leadership Act would prohibit the Department of Justice from defending Pendley in the lawsuit brought by Gov. Steve Bullock in September. In the case, a Montana federal judge ruled that Pendley had been unlawfully serving as the acting director of the BLM for over a year.

“It ensures a chap named William Perry Pendley, who has illegally occupied the head spot of BLM for the past year and a half, follows a recent court order and abandons his troubled leadership role immediately,” Tester said on Thursday. “We need to make sure the court order is obeyed so, quite frankly, he can’t do any more damage to our public lands.”

Pendley was appointed in 2019 to serve as deputy director of the BLM. He held the position for three months before becoming acting director. Pendley has served as acting director ever since, even after his official nomination to lead the agency was withdrawn earlier this month.

Bullock filed a lawsuit in July against Pendley and the BLM, along with the Department of the Interior, claiming he was violating federal statute by continuing to make key land-use decisions while lacking Senate confirmation.

According to Bullock’s suit, federal law prohibits acting directors from serving while their nomination is pending. The federal judge agreed, writing that “The President cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of a presidency … “

The same judge issued a second ruling earlier this week invalidating three land-use plan revisions in Montana approved under Pendley’s illegal tenure.

“Montanans have known since Day One that William Perry Pendley is nothing more than an unelected Washington bureaucrat who is willing to break the law to sell off our public lands,” Tester said. “Now he’s ignoring a court order and thumbing his nose at the Constitution.”

Tester’s bill, which is cosponsored by several other Democrats including two from Oregon and one from Nevada, would prohibit the DOJ from defending Pendley in the suit that instructed he be removed from his role at the BLM.

Tester continued pushing his legislation on Thursday.

“Bullock’s lawsuit successful determined that Pendley’s role violated federal laws, which it did,” Tester said. “It’s an important thing because Pendley has a record of taking public lands out of public hands and that’s not the direction we need to have, especially in the state of Montana where it contributes greatly to our economy.”