For Immediate Release: Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
BLM Must Disclose Circumstances Behind Putting William Pendley in Director’s Chair
Washington, DC — The whys and wherefores leading to one of the oddest Trump administration appointments remain cloaked because a federal agency refuses to produce records in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). After a career seeking to roll back federal lands, William Pendley was named this summer to lead the biggest federal land management agency, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
For the past 30 years, Pendley was the President of the arch-conservative law firm known as the Mountain States Legal Foundation, where he frequently argued for BLM land to be sold off en masse to private interests. It is not clear if he has brought that same agenda with him to BLM.
PEER is seeking records reflecting who appointed Pendley, a self-described “Sagebrush Rebellion” lawyer, as BLM’s Deputy Director for Policy and Programs, why he was appointed, and what if any conditions were imposed. On July 29th, barely two weeks after this appointment, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt delegated Pendley to “exercise the authority” of the BLM Director.
“We are trying to find out how an arsonist got hired as fire chief,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, who filed the suit. “This was the opposite of a natural transition for Pendley and we want to know what other baggage he is carrying.”
During the Trump administration, BLM has been run by a rotating cast of lower officials in the Director’s role; Pendley is the fifth appointee to run it. His short but controversial stint features him leading the removal of BLM’s headquarters from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colorado, the center of an area that bills itself as “the Premier Natural Gas Province of the Rocky Mountains.”
Trump has yet to even nominate a permanent BLM Director for Senate confirmation and Pendley’s prospects for confirmation, if nominated, appear dim. But, Pendley has become the most vocal spokesperson for the Trump agenda and may remain acting as BLM’s Director for the duration of the Trump Administration.
“Bill Pendley is running an agency responsible for one-tenth of the surface area of the U.S. and we know virtually nothing about how he got there,” Jenkins added, noting that in the three months since PEER filed its document requests the BLM both failed to produce a single record or provide a production schedule. “The records detailing how he came to run an agency he built his career on attacking will make fascinating reading.”