Gov. Steve Bullock has filed a lawsuit to block the acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, from leading the agency while his confirmation sits pending before the Senate.
The move increases pressure on Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who sits on the Senate Energy Committee reviewing Pendley’s nomination and faces Democrat Bullock in his bid for a second term in Congress. Although no date has been set for the confirmation hearing, Bullock’s lawsuit is the third challenging Pendley’s acting leadership as a violation of federal law.
“Americans and Montanans deserve a Bureau of Land Management director who values the public’s role in managing our public lands,” Bullock said in a press release on Monday. “During Pendley’s unlawful tenure, the BLM has interfered with Montana’s collaborative efforts and public access priorities. This decision-making by unconfirmed federal officials stands to create long-lasting and irreversible injury to our state’s lands, economy, and wildlife.”
“This is just an election year, political stunt,” Daines’ spokeswoman Katie Schoettler said on Monday. “If Pendley does come before the Committee for a hearing, the Senator is going to have very tough questions for him to answer.”
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt named Pendley as acting director a year ago, and has reappointed him four times. President Donald Trump didn’t formally nominate him until last month.
Pendley led the Mountain States Legal Foundation and was defending an energy developer’s claim to drill for oil in the Badger-Two Medicine region considered sacred land by the Blackfeet Indian Tribe. A federal appeals court rejected that claim in June. Since becoming acting director, Pendley has overseen a transfer of BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C. that resulted in nearly half the bureau’s career staff quitting. He has also made numerous controversial comments, including writing a National Review article titled “The Federal Government Should Follow the Constitution and Sell Its Western Lands.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and former Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes plan to join Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President land Tawney and National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara in protesting Pendley’s nomination in a conference call on Tuesday.
Bullock’s lawsuit before the U.S. District Court in Great Falls accuses Pendley of violating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, “which prohibits acting officers from running agencies while their nominations are pending before the Senate.” The lawsuit also claims Pendley directed BLM actions that “threaten sagebrush habitat that was previously identified by Bureau as a conservation priority” and increasing the risk that sage grouse will be listed under the Endangered Species Act, “prioritizing access to extractive industries over all other land use and conservation goals (which) undercut the State’s ability to preserve and protect areas that have special fish and wildlife, archaeological and recreational values,” and improperly rewrote resource management plans produced after years of work at the Lewistown and Missoula field offices to ignore or reject thousands of acres of proposed land protections.
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