President Donald Trump will formally nominate William Perry Pendley, a self-proclaimed “sagebrush rebel” with extreme anti-environmental views and a long history of advocating for the sale of federal lands in the West, to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management.
Pendley was tapped last July for a senior policy position at BLM, an agency of the Department of the Interior, and quickly elevated to acting chief. The backdoor appointment 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. It also enraged environmentalists and sparked fears of a public lands sell-off.
Pendley, a native of Wyoming, is the former longtime president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit that has pushed for the government to sell off millions of federal acres. He’s written several books about Western land issues, including one titled “Sagebrush Rebel,” a reference to the Sagebrush Rebellion movement of the 1970s and ’80s that sought to remove lands from federal control. In a January 2016 op-ed published by The National Review, he wrote: “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”
The Trump administration has vowed not to dispose of public lands. Yet it has cozied up to members of the pro-land transfer movement and tapped several opponents of federal land policy for high-ranking department positions. Pendley has dismissed concerns about his stance on federal lands and said his personal views and past statements ― including some that described climate science as “junk science” and comparing immigrants to a “cancer” ― are “irrelevant” to leading a bureau.
In a release announcing Trump’s intent to nominate him to the director post, the White House said Pendley “has worked to increase recreational opportunities on and access to our Nation’s public lands, heighten concern for the impact of wild horses and burros on public lands, and increase awareness of the Bureau’s multiple-use mission.”
Pendley also has ties to Lyndon LaRouche, the late cult leader, convicted fraudster and paranoid conspiracy theorist, as HuffPost first reported. Pendley published anti-environmental pieces in 21st Century Science & Technology, a fringe LaRouche magazine loaded with pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, and documents indicate he was at a 1994 conference where two of LaRouche’s associates called on anti-environmental groups to help kill Senate support for an international biodiversity treaty. Pendley dismissed his connections to LaRouche as “irrelevant.”
Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat on the interior and environment appropriations subcommittee, told HuffPost that Pendley’s writings in 21st Century Science & Technology were “yet another clear sign he should not be in charge of the BLM” and should step down.
“The Trump Administration should nominate someone who believes in the agency’s mission and supports protecting our thriving outdoor recreation economy and iconic wildlife—not a longtime advocate of selling off U.S. public lands to the highest bidder,” Udall said in an email.
Nearly 100 environmental organizations signed on to a letter in late December demanding Pendley resign or be removed from office. The groups argued that he poses an “existential threat” to America’s public lands.
“President Trump is doubling down on his record as the most anti-nature president in U.S. history,” Kate Kelly, public lands director at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said in a statement Friday. “The nomination of William Perry Pendley sends a clear signal that Trump plans to move ahead with a radical, sweeping, and unpopular sell-off of America’s public lands.”
Pendley had voiced interest in becoming BLM’s permanent director, telling the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado, in November that he would welcome the opportunity but that it was ultimately up to the White House. The job requires Senate confirmation, meaning Pendley will soon face tough questions under oath from Democrats who say he’s unfit to lead the powerful agency.
Pendley’s first stint in government was under James Watt, President Ronald Reagan’s Interior Department chief, who is widely considered among the most anti-environment Cabinet appointees in U.S. history. Pendley joined Watt’s Interior Department in 1981 as deputy assistant secretary of the Minerals Management Service and has been described as Watt’s “ideological twin.”
Along with extreme views on federal land policy, Pendley detests the Endangered Species Act, once writing the conservation law seeks “to kill or prevent anybody from making a living on federal land.” He has sued the federal government numerous times in the last three decades, railed often against environmental “terrorists” and “eco-fascists,” and compared the climate crisis to a “unicorn” because “neither exists.”