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Ruling: William Pendley 'served unlawfully' as public lands chief

A federal judge has removed William Perry Pendley from his post as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management after serving in the role for 424 days. Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management
A federal judge has removed William Perry Pendley from his post as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management after serving in the role for 424 days. Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Sept. 26 (UPI) -- A federal judge has ruled that William Pendley has "served unlawfully," as public lands chief for 424 days.

The 34-page ruling from the U.S. District Court in Montana removes Pendley from his position as acting Bureau of Land Management director.

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Pendley "served unlawfully as the acting BLM director for 424 days," Judge Brian Morris said in the order filed Friday.

Morris further issued an injunction against Pendley, prohibiting him from serving in the role.

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Morris also ruled that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt could not pick another person to replace Pendley because that person must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Additionally, Morris gave both parties 10 days to file briefs about acts of Pendley's that should be vacated.

Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson said in an email to The Hill the department would appeal "immediately."

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"This is an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law," Swanson said. "It betrays longstanding practice of the department going back several administrations.

"Unfortunately, it appears the bias against the administration was just to great to overcome," Swanson continued, adding that the Obama administration used a succession order.

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An initial Interior statement said that Pendley would continue to lead the BLM, but Swanson later said the department would follow the court order unless a higher court overturns it.

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation sought the declaration that Pendley "served unlawfully" in violation of the appointments clause in the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the Administrative Procedure Act and his removal from the post.

"Today's ruling is a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands," the governor said in a statement. "Montanans can rest easy knowing the National Public Lands Day will begin with William Perry Pendley packing his desk and vacating the director's office at the Bureau of Land Management."

Pendley has served as acting BLM director since July 2019, when Bernhardt appointed him, prompting scrutiny that he was not confirmed by the Senate.

Environmental protection groups argued a few months ago that Pendley was unqualified to serve as a public chief of the BLM, which manages 247 million acres of public land because he had no prior land management experience.

President Donald Trump said in June he planned to nominate Pendley to lead the BLM, but the Trump administration withdrew the nomination in August under bipartisan political pressure.

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Prior to leading BLM, Pendley worked for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, where he often challenged the federal agency and made statements in favor of selling federal public land.

On Sept. 1, a watchdog report said that U.S. Interior officials misled Congress when they said cost was behind the department's decision to relocate the BLM's headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Colorado.

In response, Todd Willens, chief of staff for Bernhardt, said politicians have "weaponized" the relocation efforts.



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