The Controversial BLM Acting Director Refused To Address His Personal Views On Climate Change And Public Lands At An Environmental Journalism Conference

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, speaks on panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists confernece in the Lory Student Center, Colorado State University, Oct. 10, 2019.

The acting director of the Bureau of Land Management refused to discuss his personal views on climate change during a session in front of hundreds of environmental journalists in Fort Collins this morning.

William Perry Pendley, at a Society of Environmental Journalists conference, turned away questions about his past statements on climate change. In a 2011 press release, from when he headed the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Colorado, Pendley was quoted referring to the "fiction of man-made climate change." In a 2010 blog post, he called climate believers "kooks."

At the conference he told journalists that his personal views do not matter because he said his boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, has said climate change is an issue.

"I'm a marine, I follow orders," Pendley said. "He's told me the way it's going to be, and that's the way it's going to be."

Pendley was a controversial choice when Bernhardt named him acting director because of his long career of advocating selling off the public lands he is now in charge of protecting.

He told the conference none of his personal statements are relevant now. Pendley said he adheres to the position of the administration, which "has been crystal clear ... we do not believe in, we will not participate in the wholesale disposal or transfer of federal lands."

At the same time, however, the agency has drawn criticism for limiting public input on decisions regarding Colorado lands, and putting oil and gas development interests over those of other public uses of BLM land.

Gov. Jared Polis sent a letter to the agency last month saying new rules put oil and gas development over state priorities like air quality, water resources and big-game management.

Pendley spoke with Colorado Public Radio's climate and environment reporter Michael Sakas at the conference.

Interview Highlights

On the BLM headquarters move to Grand Junction:

"We make decisions every day based on a piece of paper, a photograph, a map. And there's nothing that compares with being on the ground, actually going to the site, getting boots on the ground and understanding what's going on and seeing the land for yourself and getting a real sense of it.. .We're going to have incredible cross-fertilization because the Washington types coming out here, we'll learn from the field people what's really happening and the field people will learn how things are done in Washington. So I'm really pumped about it. I think it's going to be awesome.

We will retain in Washington 61 people, including myself, but we're going to have our congressional affairs, our regulatory affairs, our public affairs, our budget people and our FOIA people, freedom of information act people. We'll be footsteps away from the secretary's office and the deputy secretary's office. Those people will have unparalleled access to the secretary of the interior instead of being the several blocks away all the way across town. And, I think that's an exciting opportunity."

On the charge from BLM critics that the move is meant to dismantle the agency because a number of long-term employees can't relocate from D.C.:

"The president has a mission ... to use the BLM lands in a true multiple use way. And so that means oil and gas and it means coal and it means logging and it means ranching and it means recreational access ... We have things we want to get done. The president has told us develop energy on federal lands and to get all these things done that we're doing, frankly, we need employees and for us to get rid of anybody would be just a, you know, it would be foolish on our part. And when I testified to Congress on Sept. 10, I said I don't want to lose a single employee. And if we have employees who can't make the move West, we're gonna find them new jobs at the department."

On the decision to lease offices in a building that houses oil and gas interests:

"We don't decide where we go. We don't decide what buildings are available to us. Frankly, GSA (General Services Administration) is the one who told us, this is your building. And we said, great."

On how the BLM accounts for the impacts of climate change in it's decisions:

"Well, the Secretary of the Interior has provided me my marching orders on this and the Secretary of the Interior said climate change is real. And mankind has an impact. Science is not able to project future climate conditions, but that the consequences of climate change has to be understood and addressed.

And so my job as director is when we do studies, when we look at projects, the courts are telling us, the courts want to know what our views are with regard to the impacts on climate change of this particular activity, whether it's eBikes or it's oil and gas activity or it's grazing or it's fire management. And so we have to address all those things. So we have a job to do on that and we plan to do it."