The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion William Perry Pendley did not have Senate approval. Congress should not stand for it.

A group of bison at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July 2014.
A group of bison at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July 2014. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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DURING ANY other administration, it would be a front-page scandal. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last month tapped William Perry Pendley, an anti-government zealot who has not been Senate-approved for any position, to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees one-tenth of the nation’s land. Mr. Pendley’s first turn in government, during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, was ignominious — and he has done nothing since to suggest he belongs in a position of public trust.

Mr. Pendley, a longtime conservative pundit, has written books with titles such as “Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier” and “War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier.” His Twitter handle is @Sagebrush_Rebel, in reference to an anti-Washington movement demanding more access to public lands in the 1970s and 1980s. Environmentalists “don’t believe in human beings,” he declared in 2014. “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” he wrote in 2016. “Westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change.”

When former interior secretary Ryan Zinke moved to slash the size of national monuments throughout the country, Mr. Pendley attacked him for not being aggressive enough. As the head of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, Mr. Pendley repeatedly sued the Interior Department on behalf of those seeking to weaken environmental protections.

Perhaps most concerning was Mr. Pendley’s writing during the armed standoff between scofflaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the BLM, in which he sympathized with Mr. Bundy and attacked federal officials for “overreaction.” In fact, Mr. Bundy’s brazen contempt for the law deserved no sympathy. Now, Mr. Pendley leads the agency that “overreacted.”

True, Mr. Pendley will only be in the post in an acting capacity until Sept. 30. But former Interior Department employees warn that he could do much damage in a short period of time. “Someone like the acting director of the BLM can make scores of decisions over the course of the week: how fast to do this, how slow to walk that, what position to take on this particular issue, or what to tell the Justice Department about how to defend a particular case,” John Leshy, a senior Interior official during the Clinton administration, told E&E News. Former officials also warn that Mr. Pendley could appoint staff who could remain much longer than he does. Along with the Trump administration’s decision to relocate most of BLM’s Washington headquarters workforce out West, a ploy to force employees to leave the government entirely, Mr. Pendley’s promotion appears to be part of a broader effort to kneecap the agency.

Behind the backs of lawmakers, the Trump administration has elevated to key jobs men and women who could never obtain Senate confirmation, and is attempting to restructure the government in ways lawmakers did not approve. Congress should not stand for it.

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