Acting Land Chief Won’t Get the Permanent Post, But He’ll Stay on the Job
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Acting Land Chief Won’t Get the Permanent Post, But He’ll Stay on the Job

William Perry Pendley’s Opposition to Public Lands Is Too Much for Senate Republicans in Tight November Races


Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

William Perry Pendley, the embattled attorney who is acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, is out as a candidate for the permanent job.

Trump withdrew Pendley’s nomination on Saturday because it could have caused problems for three Republican senators in tough re-election races who would have voted whether to confirm him: Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona.

Pendley is expected to remain acting director.

“President Trump’s Senate Republican allies appear uncomfortable voting to confirm such a controversial nominee,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “They should be similarly uncomfortable with allowing Pendley to keep working for the federal government.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is running against Daines, filed one of two federal lawsuits about Pendley’s appointment. Bullock’s lawsuit says Pendley is violating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act which prohibits acting officers from running agencies while their nominations are pending before the Senate.

The Western Watersheds Project, an environmental watchdog, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibilit also sued over Pendley’s appointment. Both cases are pending.

In July 2019, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed Pendley acting director. Trump nominated Pendley to be director in June.

The bureau oversees 247 million acres of public land, roughly the size of Texas and California combined. It is more land than any other federal agency. The bureau has not had a Senate-confirmed director since Trump took office.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Tell Trump your thoughts about Pendley. Call the White House at 202-456-1111 or write him at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20500.

Contact Public Citizen at 202-588-1000.


All 45 of the Senate’s Democrats and the two independents wrote Trump in August, asking him to withdraw the nomination, saying he was “unfit for the position.”

Pendley previously ran Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for private property rights. He sued the Interior Department, which he is now a part of, at least 40 times. Pendley also worked under James Watt in the early 1980s as deputy assistant secretary of the Minerals Management Service.

Pendley pushed for a fire sale of coal leases in that job which led to a federal probe in which he was referred for possible criminal prosecution. No charges were ever filed.

In November, he publicly undermined the agency’s rangers, writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that they should defer to local law enforcement. His words could lead to potentially violent confrontations with bureau employees who routinely face threats, harassment and violence from people upset about restrictions on public land.

Featured image: William Perry Pendley in Moab, Utah (BLM)

August 17, 2020