PFor Immediate Release: Thursday, July 2, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Pendley’s Forked Tongue on BLM Law Enforcement
In FOIA Suit, Pendley Admits Law Enforcement Policies Did Not Change
Washington, DC — William Pendley, the self-described Sagebrush Rebel now leading the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, loudly claimed he would reorient BLM’s law enforcement program but his promises turn out to be hot air, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) in a lawsuit brought under the Freedom of Information Act. The White House has recently announced its intent to nominate the hotly controversial Pendley to serve as BLM’s formal Director after serving as its de facto acting Director for the past ten months.
In an op-ed penned last fall, Pendley wrote that BLM Rangers are “distrusted” because of “policies that make them the pointy end of a misaimed, federal spear.” In 2020, he publicly stated that BLM law enforcement Rangers should defer to county sheriffs even on violations of federal law committed on federal land.
PEER filed suit after its FOIA request, seeking the records detailing Pendley’s law enforcement policy changes and communications with county sheriffs, was ignored. To resolve the suit the U.S. Justice Department produced records indicating that he had no communications with county sheriffs and offering the following statement from Pendley:
“I, in my official capacity as the Deputy Director of Policy and Programs Exercising the Authority of the Director of the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), have not ordered any policy change for BLM Law Enforcement Officers regarding their relationship with local law enforcement relative to what it was before my tenure, nor have I directed anyone else to do so.”
“This episode indicates Mr. Pendley’s BLM tenure can be characterized as ‘all hat, no cattle,’” remarked PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, expressing concern that Pendley’s public statements could aggravate flashpoints leading to needless and violent confrontations. “Perhaps there is no written record of Pendley’s outreach to county sheriffs because he relied on right wing dog whistles.”
BLM law enforcement Rangers are called upon to enforce road closures 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.
A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal, Political Behavior, looked at “Constitutionalist” sheriffs who dispute the legitimacy of federal authority. It examined counties across the West with such sheriffs and found “Counties with constitutionalist sheriffs are 50% more likely to have violence against BLM employees than other counties, even when controlling for other factors.” It concluded that these sheriffs “increase political violence against the federal government by stoking citizens’ anti-federal grievances and by making it difficult for the BLM employees to enforce land regulations.”
“Regardless of the form, the clear message Pendley is sending to the Rangers is that, should push come to shove, he will not have their backs,” added Whitehouse, pointing to a PEER survey of BLM staff in nine Western states where nearly half of respondents reported “threats to our safety due to resource management issues.” He added, “Federal rules and regulations are exactly what the Rangers are specially trained and tasked to enforce. Telling them to defer to local sheriffs without a clear act of Congress is wholly indefensible. They have a hard enough job made harder when serving under a leader who does not believe in the agency mission.”