William Perry Pendley, past-acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was officially removed from his capacity in late September. Now, environmental organizations are contending the legitimacy of decisions Pendley made during his time as acting director.
After Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) sued Pendley to force him to step down from his role, Chief District Judge Brian Morris ruled Sept. 25 Pendley had “served unlawfully as the acting BLM director for 424 days.”
A coalition of more than 50 environmental groups penned a letter to Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt Oct. 6, addressing implications of Pendley’s recent removal as acting director.
“BLM must review and restart any action in which Mr. Pendley’s involvement renders the action invalid given his absence of authority,” the letter read. “We note that this list is by no means exhaustive, and that, ultimately, BLM bears the burden of justifying any decision it makes to preserve final actions taken by the agency during Mr. Pendley’s illegal tenure.”
One of the largest contentions by the groups was Pendley’s role in moving the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, CO. The letter claims BLM was not transparent in the role Pendley played in the decision-making process, but the groups called him the official face of the move.
“Any decision made about this move must be closely reviewed, and if kept in place, BLM must show that these acts are not subject to the court’s order,” the letter read.
The groups also said Pendley was responsible for appointing four state directors, two acting directors, and a number of other leadership appointments, and “the implication of these appointments must be closely reviewed.”
The director of the BLM is also responsible for review and approval of resource management plans, and the letter noted any plan or plan amendment during Pendley’s tenure must be set aside. This includes 30 rangeland management plan or amendments, including the most recent plan for the Sonoran Desert National Monument in Arizona approved in late September.
The groups also said new policies, guidelines, regulations and programs approved by Pendley must be set aside, unless BLM is able to prove they were lawful. This includes implementation of the Wild Horse and Burro Program; instruction memoranda for implementation of Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan revisions or amendments; oil and gas site security, oil measurement, and gas measurement regulations; and others.
On Oct. 9, Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation filed a notice of supplemental authority to bring recent comments by Pendley to the attention of the court.
The supplemental information includes an article by the Powell Tribune Oct. 8, where Pendley is quoted as saying the court’s decision to call his service unlawful has had “no impact, no impact whatsoever.”
Other statements in the article plaintiffs called attention to include: “I’m still here, I’m still running the bureau. I have always been from day one . . . deputy director of policy and programs,” “I have the support of the president. I have the support of the secretary of the interior and my job is to get out and get things done to accomplish what the president wants to do,” and “It has been done for almost 30 years throughout all administrations. Republicans and Democrats, over the decades, have said they will designate somebody who’s in the chain of command, as exercising the authority of the assistant secretary, or the director, so that person has the authority to sign something, and we can move on with life.” — Anna Miller, WLJ editor