William Pendley is Still Bad News—and Still Illegally Leading the Bureau of Land Management

August 18, 2020
Photo: House Natural Resources Committee
Andrew Rosenberg
Director, Center for Science and Democracy

Last week the Trump administration withdrew the nomination of William Pendley for Director of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They did so for political reasons, so that two Senate candidates in Colorado and Montana could avoid having to cast a vote on his controversial nomination. Pendley’s views are so extreme that his nomination was problematic in these and other states where federal land management is of crucial importance.

But it shouldn’t have been politics that sunk his nomination—he never should have been nominated in the first place. His myriad conflicts of interest and his very opposition to the mission of the agency he was nominated to lead should have disqualified him from the beginning.

That makes it all the more troubling that the administration has continued Mr. Pendley as the effective acting administrator of the BLM despite withdrawing his nomination. In other words, despite the Senate refusing to give its advice and consent as the Constitution requires, Pendley will be effectively doing the job of director and continuing to have a powerful and negative influence on the management of public lands. He will continue to approve oil and gas leases for his former clients. To scale back conservation efforts. To hinder uses of public lands for the public interest in favor of private corporate benefits. In other words, he will continue to flout BLM’s mission to serve the people of this nation.

That it is unconstitutional for Pendley to remain in charge of the BLM should be enough to send him packing. But it is also illegal. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 says that an official can only serve in an acting capacity for 210 days. Pendley is far beyond that—just one more example of this administration ignoring laws that it finds inconvenient despite swearing to uphold those laws.

Pendley should not be running the BLM or setting any policy related to public lands. Policy decisions he has made should be vacated immediately as they were decided by an official with no legal right to do so. Mr. Pendley can go back to writing extremist books or railing against democratic government as he is entitled to do. But he has no business subverting the public interest.