Top Bureau of Land Management Official Removed, Big Implications for Other Appointments

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer 


On Friday, an order from the chief judge of the Montana federal court removed acting Bureau of Land Management director William Perry Pendley. Despite never being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Pendley served as acting director for 424 days, a full 214 days past the original deadline to be confirmed. His removal calls into question the validity of many of the actions he took while in office, including opening large swathes of land in the American west to oil and gas drilling. It may also set precedent for current appointments that have yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Why This Matters: Environmental groups are now scrutinizing actions Pendley took during his tenure, questioning whether or not many Bureau decisions were issued with valid legal authority.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, explains, “If this case becomes a template in other districts, then it would follow that all other land use plans that have been approved during Pendley’s illegal tenure could also get thrown out.” Weiss predicts that if that happens, it could eliminate “all of the planning work BLM has finalized over the last year, possibly longer.

The Big Picture: This has greater implications outside the Bureau of Land Management; the Trump administration has not officially nominated people to fill 133 out of 750 positions that require Senate approval. The precedent set by Pendley’s departure could result in similar scrapping of plans in many other government agencies. Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service believes that there are many other instances of acting officials overstepping their authority, “it creates uncertainty across the board and there are many other instances where the same or similar circumstances might exist.” 

The Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 million acres of federally owned land; a vast majority of it is in the American West. Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who is currently embroiled in a tight reelection campaign, filed a lawsuit against the Bureau to protect 650,000 acres of public land that, under Pendley’s leadership, would have been leased to the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists have sharply criticized these plans, as well as Pendley’s anti-environmental history; Pendley previously sued the federal government on behalf of oil companies and pushed to roll back protections for endangered wildlife. He has also come under fire for previously asserting that the federal government shouldn’t own land at all, the same land he was appointed to preside over. 

Critics also say that President Trump can no longer be allowed to get away with unconfirmed appointments. Judge Brian Morris expressed frustration, “The President cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities.” Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation said of the potential consequences, “that’s the price the administration pays for not going through the normal process of nominating a director and having that approved by the Senate.”

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