President Trump's nomination of an outspoken conservative activist to lead a major public lands agency tees up a tough vote in the Senate in the middle of an election year. 

Trump officially tapped William Perry Pendley on Tuesday to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after a year running the agency in an acting role.

Pendley had generated controversy for his statements in favor of selling the very lands he is charged with overseeing. The BLM runs the federal government's oil, gas and coal-leasing program and manages more than a tenth of the nation’s landmass. 

Pendley is facing a new round of criticism for once dismissing another BLM — the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a 2017 op-ed in the Washington Examiner, Pendley said the media perpetuated a false account of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. 

“Michael Brown never raised his hands in surrender and cried, ‘Hands up; Don’t shoot,’” Pendley wrote of the 2014 shooting. “We know the political movement spawned August 9, 2014, Black Lives Matter, was built on that terrible lie.”

Though the Justice Department concluded “there is no credible evidence” Brown was attempting to surrender when shot by police, the op-ed is getting renewed attention after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the surge of protests against racial injustice nationwide.

In a statement, Pendley said he “wholeheartedly” supports a civil rights investigation initiated by Trump into Floyd's death.

“The killing of George Floyd was a grave tragedy,” Pendley said. “It should never have happened. I pray for his family and loved ones and that justice will be done.”

“Because I have never shied away from controversy,” he added, “I spent the past 30 years of my legal career defending the constitutional rights of those whose liberties were infringed upon by the government.”

Some senators have already said the article cost Pendley their votes. 

The dismissive tone of the article, titled “Black Lives Matter began with a lie,” lost him the support of one of the few moderate Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

“Mr. Pendley’s comments about the Black Lives Matter movement make it clear he is not fit" to lead the agency, wrote Manchin, who is the top Democrat on the panel in front of which Pendley will testify, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

It's unclear whether Pendley will get the backing of every GOP member, either. The committee's chair, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), was noncommittal on confirming Pendley. Instead she said in a statement that she was “committed to ensuring a thorough but fair process” for his nomination.

And a spokeswoman for Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who also serves on the panel and faces a tough reelection race in November, said the senator “looks forward to fully reviewing” Pendley’s record.

During a Colorado Public Radio interview on Wednesday, Gardner said Pendley needs to answer “some very tough questions” when asked about Pendley's past comments.

“That's exactly why we have a confirmation hearing,” he added.

Pendley is a land manager who has said he doesn’t believe the government should have any.

Before joining the Trump administration, Pendley was the president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative advocacy group. There he sued the Interior Department on behalf of an oil and gas prospector and pressed to shrink the federal government's footprint in Western states to make way for more development.

“The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in now widely shared a National Review article in 2016. “Westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change,” he said.

That view clashes with the Trump administration's official position against the sale or transfer of public lands to private hands. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt installed Pendley as the BLM's acting director a year ago. At the time the Interior Department, the BLM's parent agency, said the appointment did not change the administration's stance.

Last week, Bernhardt said Pendley was “doing a great job” as the acting chief, noting that the agency has acquired more than 25,000 acres to expand recreation areas.

David Hayes, who served as the Interior Department's deputy secretary under both the Obama and Clinton administrations, said Pendley's nomination represents “a doubling-down” on what he says are ill-thought agency policies, including opening ecologically sensitive areas of Alaska and the Western United States to “indefensible oil and gas drilling.” 

“Pendley owns all of those policies and, by all accounts, believes wholeheartedly in them,” Hayes said.

Pendley's nomination may be helped by his role in realizing one of Gardner's top priorities for the agency — moving BLM's headquarters to the city of Grand Junction in his home state.

Colorado's other senator, Michael F. Bennet (D), also supports moving the national office — and the hundreds of jobs that entails — to the western part of the state. 

But Bennet still opposes Pendley's nomination.

“Someone who has spent their entire career opposed to the very idea of public lands is unfit to lead a land management agency,” Bennet said.

Note to readers: The Energy 202 is on pause next week as I'm on vacation. We will return to your inbox on the morning of Tuesday, July 14. Have a Happy Fourth of July, everyone! 

Power plays

A watchdog agency is at impasse with Wilbur Ross over releasing the “Sharpiegate” report.

The Commerce Department's inspector general, Peggy Gustafson, sent a memo to the commerce secretary Wednesday evening expressing “deep concern” that the department is infringing on the office’s independence by preventing the release of the final report, my colleagues Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow report.

The department’s leaders are asserting a broad claim of privilege that would exclude publication of certain material on a now infamous unsigned statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration backing Trump’s false claim that Hurricane Dorian posed a major threat to Alabama last September. Trump modified a forecast map with marker, in an incident dubbed “Sharpiegate.”

A summary of the report, which was published online in lieu of the full document, concluded the department ran a "flawed process."

It's infrastructure week in the House, which just passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill. 

The “climate-friendly” infrastructure bill, as Politico describes it, was approved in a 233-to-188 vote Wednesday and includes provisions upping spending on drinking water systems and the electric grid, expanding renewable energy tax credits and forming the nation's first climate bank.

The bill, however, is dead on arrival in its current form in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called the legislation "nonsense," "absurd" and "pure fantasy."

A House panel approves the expansion of military presence in a Nevada desert refuge.

An amendment to the defense authorization package, which would give the U.S. Air Force greater control over 800,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, was approved by the House Armed Services on Wednesday. 

The military had asked for the extra space at its Nevada Test and Training Range as a safety buffer for the testing of new and more powerful weapons. But conservationists said the decision threatens hundreds of species. "Wildlife refuge lands were not set aside to become a battlefield for military training," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the Defenders of Wildlife.

The fate of the desert is still unclear. The Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the defense bill does not include the provision.