Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of PEER, comments to House Natural Resources Committee Democratic Roundtable on September 9, 2020 on William Perry Pendley’s Unfitness to Lead the Bureau of Land Management
Thank you Chair Haaland, Chair Grijalva and Congressman Raskin for the opportunity to share our perspective on why William Perry Pendley is unfit to lead.
A little bit about PEER.
PEER assists public employees in fighting for the ethical management of our natural resources.
PEER attorneys specialize in whistleblower protections, First Amendment rights, and civil service laws.
We are suing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt with the Western Watersheds Project, alleging Secretary Bernhardt violated the Constitution and federal law when he kept William Perry Pendley in place as the de facto leader of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Pendley is the 4th “acting” BLM director in less than four years.
Combined with multiple transfers, retirements, and other high-level personnel shifts, the senior management of BLM has been hollowed out, leaving field operations in turmoil, and more centralization of decision-making than ever before.
We are deeply disturbed by Pendley’s contempt for protecting public lands and his hostility toward racial and religious groups and Native American Communities.
Many examples have already been given about why Pendley’s appointment has been so destructive on BLM.
I will briefly discuss the disruption his appointment and associated personnel chaos has had on three core BLM functions.
Land Use Planning
Supposedly, the reason to move the BLM HQ to Grand Junction was to bring decision-making closer to those affected. That has not been the case.
Consider the multi-year planning process for federal lands and mineral rights for nearly a million acres in southwest Colorado. In January, BLM abruptly jettisoned a draft plan that had been negotiated with three counties, the Governor, and affected Native American tribes. Instead, it imposed a wholly new alternative, one with vastly expanded oil and gas leasing.
Records we obtained under FOIA describes a briefing in which Headquarters appointees told Colorado BLM managers that their draft plan “misses the mark” and was “not in line with the Administration’s direction to decrease regulatory burden and increase access” and that “proposed oil and gas extraction stipulations are too restrictive.”
This same process of undermining Native American, local, and state planning efforts has occurred across the West.
Rangeland Health and Management
Pendley has announced a plan to rewrite BLM grazing rules to streamline them and make them less onerous.
There is no basis to support weaker grazing rules as Pendley advocates, except as another taxpayer giveaway to the livestock industry.
BLM’s most recent data on the health of federal rangelands reveal extensive damage from excessive commercial livestock grazing. The most recent rangeland health report on BLM grazing allotments across 150 million acres in 13 Western states shows –
Of total acres assessed, 42% fail to meet BLM Standards for Rangeland Health, totaling nearly 40 million acres.
These figures are underestimates because nearly 40 percent of these federal rangelands have never been assessed.
Despite these figures, grazing permits renewed after expiration without any review has doubled since 2008 and BLM’s grazing fee rates have been stealthily reduced to rock bottom levels under Pendley’s watch.
Natural Resource Enforcement
Pendley supports fringe elements on the right.
Days after arriving in office, Pendley declared that BLM Rangers would henceforth defer to local sheriffs regarding violations of federal law on BLM land.
BLM’s Rangers are called upon to enforce road closures on National Monuments to protect vulnerable resources, such as archaeological sites and critical habitat for endangered species. In some cases, local officials, including sheriffs, oppose these closures and have threatened the Rangers. Many of these sheriffs are so-called “Constitutional Sheriffs.”
The message Pendley sent to BLM Rangers is that, push comes to shove, he will not have their backs.
This has put tremendous pressure on BLM staff. These pressures are compounded by the fact that the number of BLM rangers is declining and many ranger positions remain unfilled. This means every BLM ranger is responsible for patrolling an area the size of Delaware.
In closing, we have heard so many reasons why Pendley is unfit for office. On behalf of PEER, I would like to echo the comments and concerns that have been made so far and reinforce the need for Congress to address the breakdown in governance and management at BLM, which was deliberately undertaken to allow more industry control over federal lands.
We are at an inflection point in our country. We can continue on as is at BLM and other federal agencies and risk becoming a kleptocracy – or we can work to protect democracy by restoring the rule of law, checks and balances within our government, respect for our public servants who are under attack like never before, and inclusion of all people in government decision-making.