Senate Democrats and the chamber’s two independents have seen enough from President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as permanent director of the Bureau of Land Management ― all 47 of them have signaled that they will vote against confirming William Perry Pendley, a self-proclaimed “sagebrush rebel” with extreme anti-environmental views, to the post.
In a Tuesday letter, the entire Senate Democratic caucus, which includes the independents, slammed Pendley and urged Trump to pick a new nominee.
“Mr. Pendley’s public record, including his advocacy for reducing public lands and access to them, routine attempts to undermine tribes, and climate change denial makes him unfit for the position,” reads the letter, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
“We urge you to identify a new, qualified candidate for this critical position ― one who supports public lands and the mission of the Bureau of Land Management,” the lawmakers said.
Trump officially nominated Pendley, a conservative lawyer from Wyoming with a long history of advocating for the sale of federal lands in the West, in June to serve as BLM’s permanent director. He has run the bureau in an acting capacity for more than a year, thanks to a backdoor appointment that put him in charge of overseeing 245 million acres of public land — more than 10% of the entire U.S. landmass — and 700 million subsurface mineral acres.
Republican control of the Senate means Pendley could win confirmation if most of the GOP bloc unites behind him but signs have emerged that the nomination could be in trouble.
The White House waited nearly eight weeks to submit the paperwork necessary for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to move forward with Pendley’s confirmation, and the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has not yet scheduled a hearing to consider the nomination.
If and when she does, supporting Pendley could prove particularly awkward for GOP Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, Trump allies facing tough reelection bids who recently scored rare points with the conservation community, as HuffPost previously reported. Backing Pendley, though, likely would erase these political inroads for the two.
Lobbying efforts by influential environmental groups opposing Pendley are intensifying. “47 hard no votes on William Perry Pendley confirmation,” Collin O’Mara, president of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, wrote in a Tuesday post to Twitter. “The question is which four Republicans ... will have the courage to say hell no to an anti-public lands zealot?”
His post also noted that just two GOP members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee could join with the panel’s Democrats to block Pendley’s confirmation from even coming to a full floor vote. Both Gardner and Daines serve on the panel.
Pendley, 75, cut his government teeth under James Watt, President Ronald Reagan’s controversial Interior Department chief who was anathema to environmentalists, and been described as Watt’s “ideological twin.” Pendley became the BLM’s acting chief after decades running the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative property rights nonprofit that has pushed for the government to sell off millions of federal acres. He is a former leader of the so-called “Wise-Use movement,” a group of anti-government organizations pushing to boost mining, drilling and logging on federal lands while deriding environmentalists as domestic terrorists.
Pendley has sued the federal government numerous times over the last three decades, railed often against “eco-fascists,” compared the climate crisis to a “unicorn” and immigrants to a “cancer,” and claimed that the Endangered Species Act seeks “to kill or prevent anybody from making a living on federal land.” In the 1990s, as HuffPost first reported, he published anti-environmental pieces in a fringe magazine produced by Lyndon LaRouche, the late cult leader, convicted fraudster and paranoid conspiracy theorist.
Of late, Pendley has come under fire for his views on racial equality. In a November 2017 op-ed in The Washington Examiner, he wrote that the Black Lives Matter movement was “built on” a “terrible lie — a lie the mainstream media perpetrated, that cowardly politicians, fearful of saying ‘all lives matter,’ emboldened.”
Pendley has repeatedly refused to address his personal views and past statements, arguing they are “irrelevant” to the job of leading a federal bureau.
In its Tuesday letter, the Senate’s Democratic caucus highlighted much of Pendley’s record, including his rhetoric on indigenous communities.
“Mr. Pendley has on many prior occasions mischaracterized, mocked, or undermined tribes’ experiences, rights, and religion,” the lawmakers wrote. “Mr. Pendley’s problematic history is particularly concerning given the Bureau’s statutory and treaty responsibilities regarding consultations with tribes.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere defended Pendley in an email to HuffPost on Tuesday, calling him “a true son of the West, an outdoorsman, a Marine, and an accomplished public servant.”
“His careful acting stewardship of the Bureau to its new home in Grand Junction, Colorado, has helped transfer jobs outside the Swamp (the derisive term Trump and his allies apply to Washington) while maintaining smooth operations throughout,” he said. “The White House fully supports his expeditious confirmation by the Senate.”
In a letter earlier this month to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, more than 300 environmental and civil rights groups called on senators to oppose Pendley, saying they have a “constitutional and moral duty” to do so.
Here’s Heinrich Twitter post that includes the Democratic caucus’ letter:
This story has been updated with a statement from the White House.