Bureau Of Land Management Head William Perry Pendley Has Been Serving Illegally, Federal Judge Rules

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.

Environmentalists are celebrating after the controversial head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management was forced to stop leading the agency Friday.

A federal judge blocked William Perry Pendley from continuing to serve in that role. Pendley, who is officially deputy director of the BLM but has sat atop the agency's organizational chart since July 2019, served unlawfully for 424 days without Senate confirmation, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said. The Trump administration immediately vowed to appeal the decision.

As deputy director of the BLM at a time when the agency has had no confirmed leader, Pendley oversaw the agency’s move to Grand Junction.

He was appointed by the Trump administration, and Trump then nominated him to become the official head of the BLM, but the administration withdrew Pendley's nomination after the confirmation process became contentious. Advocates for public lands and every Democrat in the U.S. Senate pushed back on Pendley’s nomination, and even some Republican support started to waver.

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, tweeted Friday that the decision on Pendley was clear from the get-go. 

“Someone who’s spent his entire career opposed to the very idea of public lands is unfit to lead a land management agency. Period,” the tweet read. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, did not publicly respond to the judge's ruling.

Even after withdrawing the nomination for permanent director, the Trump administration intended for Pendley to continue to “exercise the authority of the director” and lead the public lands agency. But Montana's Democratic governor had sued to remove Pendley, and the judge's decision Friday said the former oil industry attorney was illegally overseeing an agency that manages nearly a quarter-billion acres of land, mostly in the West. 

Pendley's nomination drew criticism not just for his past advocacy for selling public lands and doubt of climate change. He also had a history of racist comments and stances towards Indigenous people. He tried to undo protections for land that tribes considered sacred and fought against voting rights for Native people.

The National Wildlife Federation called Pendley's removal "long overdue." 

“Every one of his decisions during his illegal tenure should be nullified to prevent our wildlife heritage and outdoor recreation economy from forever bearing the scars of his tenure,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the organization, in a statement.

The Trump Administration said in its own statement Friday that the judge's ruling is "an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law." The BLM has not had a confirmed leader during the Trump presidency.