President Donald Trump said Friday that he intends to nominate William Perry Pendley to be the permanent director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Pendley has been acting director of the agency since July. This will be the first time Trump has nominated someone to the job since he took office in January 2017.
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt applauded the announcement, noting Pendley has been leading the BLM for the past year.
“He’s doing a great job, including acquiring more than 25,000 acres of public land for expanded recreational access," Bernhardt said.
But Pendley is a controversial choice, and he is not expected to have an easy confirmation.
Prior to joining the Trump administration he was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation and supported the sale of public lands. He’s also overseen the move of hundreds of BLM jobs out West, including about 40 BLM jobs at a new headquarters in Grand Junction. Some Congress members have been critical of the move, arguing it’s a way to weaken the effectiveness of the agency as many staffers chose not to move.
Collin O’Mara, head of the conservation group the National Wildlife Federation, said the nomination is “like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department. Pendley has not only urged the sale of public lands, but he also has questioned their existence under the Constitution.” The group is urging senators to vote against the nomination.
At least one conservation group, the Center for Western Priorities, wants a quick move on the nomination, “so Western senators can go on the record about whether an extremist and long-time opponent of America’s public lands should be in charge of the agency he has spent an entire career trying to undermine,” said Jennifer Rokala, the executive director of the group.
“Any member of Congress who says they support the outdoors and public lands cannot in good conscience vote to approve this nomination,” Rokala said.
There are at least two western senators involved in tight re-election races this fall: Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Montana’s Steve Daines.
A spokesperson for Gardner — who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will take up the nomination — said the senator will fully review Pendley’s record.
“Senator Gardner is committed to the success of the Bureau of Land Management, which is why he championed the headquarters’ move to Grand Junction to be among the land and people it serves. Protecting the nation’s public lands has been and will remain a priority for the Senator,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said he will not support the nomination because Pendley’s “policies do not reflect Colorado’s values and commitment to conservation."
“During Pendley’s tenure leading BLM, Colorado has had a front row seat to his priorities,” Bennet said in a statement. “Instead of listening to Colorado, he’s taking orders from President Trump and prioritizing oil and gas development above recreation and conservation. His recent approval of the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan ignored objections from Colorado counties and failed to protect our watersheds, wildlife habitat, and agriculture.
He has been critical of Pendley’s stewardship of the BLM. In September, Bennet and 11 other Democrats wrote to Bernhardt urging him to end Pendley’s tenure as acting BLM director.
A lawsuit was also filed in federal court in May challenging Pendley’s acting director status
With five months until a presidential election, it’s unclear how far the nomination will go. The Senate cannot act on a nomination until it receives the paperwork from the White House. And Trump has issued intent to nominate statements that have not resulted in a nomination.
Editor's note: The conservation group is the National Wildlife Federation, not foundation.