Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William "Perry" Pendley speaks at a conference for journalists in Fort Collins, Colo., last fall.

Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William "Perry" Pendley speaks at a conference for journalists in Fort Collins, Colo., last fall. Matthew Brown / AP

Senators Look to Block Land Management Chief After Court Mandated His Removal

William Perry Pendley says he is still running BLM despite court order that he vacate the position.

Senate Democrats are seeking to prevent the Trump administration from pushing forward with its leader of the Bureau of Land Management despite a federal judge ruling he is not serving lawfully. 

William Perry Pendley is still serving as the top executive at BLM despite a U.S. District Court judge in Montana saying he must vacate the position, leading the lawmakers to introduce the Public Lands Leadership Act to block the Justice Department from arguing on the political appointee’s behalf in further court proceedings. While Pendley has said the initial judge’s ruling had no impact on his job, a subsequent ruling invalidated several land-use plans because BLM issued them under Pendley’s tenure. 

Pendley is “ignoring a court order and thumbing his nose at the Constitution, so I’m introducing legislation that will put an end to this executive overreach and make sure he can’t continue in his illegal role leading the BLM,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the bill’s author. “Pendley, you aren’t a king—don’t tread on our public lands.”

Tester added his bill became necessary after Pendley’s comments and the Interior Department indicating it would appeal the judge’s rulings. 

Pendley has served as the de facto head of BLM for more than 400 days, despite a Federal Vacancy Reform Act provision that limits acting heads from remaining for more than 210 days. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has issued several memoranda to keep Pendley in charge of BLM. President Trump eventually nominated him to permanently serve in the role in June, but withdrew the nomination in August. Trump has frequently pushed the boundaries of succession and appointments under the vacancies law.

“The president cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities,” said Brian Morris, the federal judge in Montana. 

Several environmental groups have identified more than a dozen resource-management plans and other projects that open up BLM-controlled lands to drilling, grazing and other activity to now challenge in court under the argument that Pendley illegally signed off on them. 

“Pendley never should have been allowed to set foot in the building, much less approve these disastrous plans that industrialize our public lands,” Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said last week. “His corrupt, illegal anti-public-lands agenda was a train wreck for the climate, wildlife and our spectacular wild places. We’ll go to court to make sure Pendley’s illegal decisions end up in the dumpster where they belong.”

Tester’s bill, cosponsored by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., would block Justice from advocating “that an individual exercising the authority of the head of an agency, regardless of their title and serving without congressional consent for over a year, is not in violation” of the vacancies act. The measure also states that Pendley is “not an appropriate choice” to lead BLM and his ongoing status at the agency violates both federal law and the court’s order. 

“I’m still here, I’m still running the bureau,” Pendley told the Powell Tribune earlier this month. 

Pendley led the effort over the last year to move BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, relocating hundreds of jobs in the process.