Pendley’s nomination as the actual head of the BLM would face tough Senate confirmation hearings because of his ultraconservative views.
Pendley has been running the BLM since July 2019, when Bernhardt appointed him to a lower position: deputy director for policy and planning.
Bernhardt also delegated duties to four other department officials.
The BLM is the caretaker of 245 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of natural resources. The agency is in the midst of moving most of its headquarters employees to Grand Junction, Colo.
As a senior official in the Reagan administration, Pendley opened up some federal land for coal leasing; the Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) sharply criticized his relationship with coal lobbyists at the time as unethical.
Pendley was later president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has frequently sided in court with oil and gas drillers, towns and ranchers. In September, Pendley filed a 17-page recusal list of 56 clients and one stock holding.
Environmental groups sharply criticized the latest move to keep him on at the BLM.
Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, said in an interview that Pendley — who wrote a book, “Sagebrush Rebel,” about Reagan’s battle with environmentalists — was “a self-described rebel, but the only thing he’s consistently rebelled against is that public lands should remain in public hands.”
“Secretary Bernhardt’s redelegation of the BLM director’s authority to anti-public lands zealot Pendley is a slap in the face to all public land users and the U.S. Constitution,” Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill said in a statement. He said putting Pendley “in charge of the BLM again is the equivalent of the Trump administration openly putting America’s public lands up for sale.”
But an Interior Department spokesperson, Melissa Brown, said in an email that “Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Department and commitment to carry out the priorities of President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt for the better of the American people.” Brown said Pendley’s appointment was “intended to ensure uninterrupted management and execution of” duties.
Brown derided the environmental groups as “extremists” and said for them “to call themselves sportsmen and conservationists” was “laughable.”
During Pendley’s term at the BLM so far, there has been an increase in leasing oil and gas prospects on federal lands. In Nevada, instead of holding traditional quarterly lease sales, the BLM began holding monthly lease sales in September. The agency offered nearly 1.8 million acres of land, much of it in big game migration areas or sage grouse habitats, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
At a September lease sale in Colorado, the BLM offered over 21,000 acres for leases in North Park. The agency has also run into conflicts with environmental groups concerned about grouse, big game and water resources, coldwater fisheries, and several parcels in the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge.
Also in September, the BLM announced that it planned to offer more than 19,000 acres for lease in North Park at a March 2020 sale.
O’Neill pointed to the recent lease sale in which the agency offered companies 4 million acres for oil exploration in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Bids were made on only a little more than 1 million of those acres.
When Pendley ran the small Mountain States Legal Foundation, he 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.
“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in a National Review magazine article in 2016. “Westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change,” he said.