Earlier this month, the Montana League of Conservation Voters put up an ad showing beautiful vistas behind signs saying “FOR SALE PUBLIC LAND.” The ad calls Pendley an “anti-public land zealot” and urges voters to “tell Steve Daines our public lands are not for sale.”
Pendley is BLM’s deputy director for policy and programs and has been acting as the bureau’s director since July 2019, overseeing the management of the nation’s federal lands.
The nomination was controversial because Pendley, who previously was president of the right-wing Mountain States Legal Foundation, had once urged the sale of federal lands. And at the foundation, he had sued the Interior Department on behalf of an oil and gas prospector, sought to undermine protections of endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and pressed to radically reduce the size of federal lands to make way for development.
“Good riddance,” John Bowman, managing director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Saturday of the nomination being withdrawn. “Pendley never hid his intentions to hand over the country’s treasured resources to polluters and should never have been nominated.”
White House and Interior officials said that Pendley would continue to serve in his current, lower-level deputy director position at the Interior Department, a job that effectively lets him continue to act as head of the BLM. Pendley was the only person nominated to head the BLM under Trump.
Several federal agencies are being run by the Trump administration using similar arrangements. In July, Bullock filed a lawsuit against Pendley and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt saying that the administration was violating the Constitution and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by letting Pendley continue to make key land-use decisions while lacking Senate confirmation.
Keeping Pendley on the job “shows the depth of disdain Secretary Bernhardt and President Trump have for the Constitution,” Jennifer Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. She called his continuing role a “baldfaced” attempt “to evade the Senate’s advice-and-consent duties.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the ranking Democrat of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment, and related agencies, said in a statement that “it’s hard to imagine a worse pick for BLM than someone who doesn’t believe in the very idea of conservation.” Udall said Pendley “should not be allowed to continue in this role in an acting, unconfirmed capacity.”