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Public lands official Pendley defends job despite judge’s ruling

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 15, 2020

William Perry Pendley, deputy director for policy and programs at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, speaks to reporters Thursday at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Pendley says he remains on the job.  (Associated Press)
William Perry Pendley, deputy director for policy and programs at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, speaks to reporters Thursday at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. Pendley says he remains on the job. (Associated Press)
By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – The top official at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Thursday he’s still working despite a federal judge ruling he’s illegally holding the position.

“I love this job,” William Perry Pendley said, adding he’s looking forward to implementing policies put forward by President Donald Trump on nearly a quarter-billion acres in the U.S. West. “I’m proud of what the president is doing.”

Perry wore an American flag face covering that he took off to speak to a handful of reporters in Boise at the National Interagency Fire Center, which manages the nation’s wildland firefighting efforts.

He also wore a form of the Gadsden flag on the left arm of his jacket. The green patch contained the image of a coiled rattlesnake with “Liberty or Death” across the top and “Don’t tread on me” across the bottom.

Perry had instructed staff to set up the news conference, despite the agency having nothing to announce. Perry used the time to praise the work of wildland firefighters this year while also contending with COVID-19, and defended his role at the bureau.

At the end, he had fire center workers hand out four double-sided pages titled “news releases” and “fact sheets,” laying out a legal argument as to why the federal judge was wrong, and arguing that Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who brought the lawsuit, did not have legal standing to file it.

Specifically, Pendley said he couldn’t be ousted from his role leading the bureau because he was never officially named the acting director. Pendley said that U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has the authority to delegate powers to others to manage the bureau, making Pendley’s role in the agency legal.

Bernhardt appointed Pendley in July 2019. Pendley said that appointment was not as acting director, but as deputy director for policy and programs.

“I have never been acting director,” Pendley declared.

In September, a U.S. district court judge in Montana ruled Pendley had served unlawfully for 424 days without being confirmed to the post by the Senate as required under the Constitution. That ruling came after Bullock in July sued to remove Pendley. The ruling also said Pendley wasn’t authorized to make several land-use plans in Montana.

“We believe the judge’s decision is wrong,” Pendley said Thursday. “We’re going to press ahead with an appeal. Meanwhile, we’ll adhere to the judge’s ruling. What that means is instead of me exercising the authority of the director, all documents that have to be signed by the director will instead be signed by the secretary.”

Pendley didn’t say when an appeal might be filed.

Under the Constitution, the bureau’s director needs Senate confirmation. Trump withdrew Pendley’s nomination earlier this year to prevent a contentious hearing that had potential ramifications for several Senate seats.

“This administration’s disregard for the law is deeply disturbing,” said John Robison of the Idaho Conservation League. “It’s been really alarming for the future of our public lands.”

He said in particular that bureau advisory groups made up of ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists are being ignored by policy makers.

The Trump administration has never had a Senate-confirmed director for the Bureau of Land Management, and now it doesn’t even have an acting director. Pendley dismissed any concerns that a lack of leadership harmed the bureau.

“I think we’ve performed magnificently,” he said.

Pendley also took issue with being labeled a “former oil industry attorney,” calling that a “pejorative,” and insisted instead that he was a former public interest and property rights advocate whose many clients included some oil companies, ranchers and others. He said he never represented any wildlife groups.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, he called for the government to sell its public lands.

Pendley has been doing interviews with various news outlets the past several weeks, defending his continuing role with the bureau despite the court ruling.

This week he embarked on a road trip, driving from the bureau’s headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, to Idaho, doing more interviews along the way, and holding the news conference in Boise.

The Trump administration moved the bureau’s headquarters to Colorado and out of Washington, D.C., this summer despite criticisms it weakened the agency.

Pendley said being based in Grand Junction made the agency stronger, and it also made Idaho close enough for him to take a road trip, checking on some public lands mining activities in eastern Idaho along the way.

“I drove myself,” he said. “That’s the beauty of having our headquarters in Grand Junction. We can get out to visit the field offices.”

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