White House To Pull Controversial Nominee For Bureau Of Land Management

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

The White House is expected to withdraw William Perry Pendley’s nomination to be director of the Bureau of Land Management, a White House official confirms. The move comes as a chorus of voices have raised objections or concerns about the nomination in recent weeks.

Pendley will remain the agency’s number two. The Deputy Director for Policy and Programs will still continue to “exercise the authority of the director” and lead the public lands agency.

“The President makes staffing decisions. Mr. Pendley will continue to lead the Bureau of Land Management as Deputy Director for Programs and Policy,” a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior said Saturday.

Pendley has been a controversial choice for the agency responsible for some public lands. He previously wrote in support of the sale of public lands, led the agency’s headquarters relocation to Grand Junction, and has made statements doubting climate change

This week, the entire Senate democratic caucus, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, wrote to President Donald Trump opposing the nomination. “Mr. Pendley’s public record, including his advocacy for reducing public lands and access to them, routine attempts to undermine tribes, and climate change denial makes him unfit for the position,” the letter stated. 

Pendley has repeatedly stated that his past support for the sale of public lands was irrelevant and that he would stand behind the president and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s position on the sale of public lands. His defenders point out that the agency has acquired more land during his tenure.

Still, support for Pendley appeared to be eroding even among some Republicans — especially those facing tough reelection races. Montana Sen. Steve Daines told E&E News in November 2019 he’d be inclined to support Pendley’s nomination, but in July his office said Daines “has not made a final decision.” 

After the nomination was made, Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who with Daines led the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, said that Pendley could expect some tough questions during a confirmation hearing, and that for Gardner the sale of public lands is a “non-starter.”

Earlier this month, hundreds of conversation groups, businesses and tribes wrote senators listing a myriad of reasons why they opposed Pendley’s nomination.

Many conservation groups praised the White House’s decision to withdraw the nomination.

“This move should be a wake-up call for anyone who attempts to appropriate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt without embodying his conservation stewardship ethic,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

Still others say the withdrawal does not go far enough. They are questioning the logic of allowing Pendley to lead the agency after a failed confirmation process.

“Withdrawing William Perry Pendley’s nomination confirms he couldn’t even survive a confirmation process run by the president’s allies in the Senate. Keeping him on the job anyway shows the depth of disdain Secretary Bernhardt and President Trump have for the Constitution,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.

This spring, a lawsuit was filed to try and remove his temporary authorities. 

With the Senate out of session, there can be no movement on the nomination or the withdrawal.