Tester to Bernhardt: ‘Do not deny that Pendley has been front and center on selling our public lands’

Senator blasts Interior Secretary for Acting BLM Director’s willingness to sell off public lands

U.S. Senator Jon Tester grilled Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on his continued support for Acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director William Pendley—who is currently operating in the role without a presidential nomination or Senate approval, despite the fact that he has drawn significant criticism for his support of selling off public lands.

The exchange occurred during a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing where Tester prodded Secretary Bernhardt on Pendley’s extended tenure, expressing concerns over the BLM Acting Director’s positions on selling and opening up federal public lands to drilling, mining and other commercial use.

“I’m going to talk about your Acting Director at BLM, who is not just bad, but horrible on public lands. I think you know it, and I definitely know it,” said Tester. “…do not deny the fact that [Pendley] has been front and center on selling our public lands. [To say otherwise] is revisionist history.”

Tester continued: “So the question is: why would you put someone in that position if you’re gonna tell him ‘this dog doesn’t hunt?’”

Pendley—who was appointed in July as Acting Director of the BLM without Senate confirmation—has repeatedly expressed his desire to sell off America’s public lands and was forced to recuse himself from a large body of BLM’s portfolio due to various flagrant conflicts of interest. Tester criticized the Interior Secretary in September when he extended Pendley’s leadership of BLM through the end of the year, and Bernhardt extended Pendley’s tenure again in December, keeping him in the position until April 3rd.

Tester has been critical of Pendley since his appointment. Last year, he called on Pendley to recuse himself from conflicts of interest arising from his past leadership of the anti-public lands group, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and his counsel on behalf of Solenex LLC, the firm seeking to restore illegally-issued drilling leases in the sacred Badger-Two Medicine Area. He also demanded Pendley explain his past ethical violations regarding a coal leasing program he oversaw during the Reagan Administration.

Additionally, Pendley has encouraged armed standoffs between federal law enforcement officials and ranchers, yet continues to have Bernhardt’s full support:

“I have complete faith that Perry understands the policies of our President and of me, and will implement them to a ‘T,’” said Bernhardt during the hearing. “…I also have a lot of faith in my willingness—if I see a deviation—to deal with it. [The sale of federal land] has not happened and I don’t expect it to happen.”

“It better not happen,” replied Tester.