By Tristan Scott - July 29, 2019 - Originally published in the Flathead Beacon
A coalition of conservation and sportsmen groups on July 29 denounced the hiring of William Perry Pendley as the new acting co-director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), saying his support for selling off millions of acres of public lands puts him at odds with the agency’s core mission, which is to administer public lands.
Pendley also has a deep connection to Northwest Montana — not as a resident, but rather in his prominent role defending oil and gas exploration on the Badger-Two Medicine region near Glacier National Park, where a decades-long showdown has been building to full froth in recent years.
Pendley is best known in this corner of the country for his work as president of the conservative law firm Mountain States Legal Foundation, which is representing Solenex LLC of Baton Rouge, a company that is actively fighting the cancellation of an oil and gas lease held on the Badger-Two Medicine, an area that is culturally and ecologically sacred to members of the Blackfeet Nation.
An attorney for the Pikuni Traditionalist Association (PTA) defending the lease cancellation, which occurred during the Obama administration and has been snarled in litigation ever since, wrote BLM Acting Director Casey Hammond urging Pendley to recuse himself given that he is now employed by the same agency with which he is squaring off against in the courtroom — the Department of Interior.
“Mr. Pendley has a ‘covered relationship’ with Solenex, and therefore should be recused from all matters concerning an oil-and-gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region of Montana,” Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the PTA, wrote in the letter.
To date, Pendley has not withdrawn as counsel of record in the matter.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, has been a staunch advocate for furnishing the Badger-Two Medicine area with permanent protections and supports the cancellation of remaining oil and gas leases. On Monday, he issued a statement criticizing Pendley’s new role with BLM, calling out the conflict of interest.
“William Pendley has built a career advocating for the sale of public lands to the highest bidder,” Tester stated. “His leadership of the agency tasked with protecting the very entities he’d like to sell is a grave threat to the future of public lands in Montana and across the country.”
As acting co-director of the BLM, Pendley will now oversee the management of 250 million acres of public land and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM manages approximately 8 million acres of public land in Montana, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the Centennial Mountains, Bear Trap Canyon, Terry Badlands and other renowned areas throughout the state. The BLM also administers mineral leasing on all federally managed public lands in Montana, including Forest Service lands.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt hired Pendley as the BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs. He started in the position on July 15. A week later, he was moved into the top spot of the agency along with Michael Nedd after the previous acting director, Hammond, returned to his earlier role within the agency. BLM director is a Senate-confirmed position.
“The fox is definitely in the hen house, and it’s time to bring out the dogs and run him out of there,” Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said.
Numerous groups called on Sens. Steve Daines, a Republican, and Tester to object to Pendley’s hiring.
As former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a property rights group, Pendley regularly sued the Department of the Interior, which encompasses the BLM, on behalf of extractive industry companies.
“The BLM manages some of the most revered places in Montana, and we now have someone in charge of the BLM who would prefer to sell those places off rather than do the job of caring for them on behalf of all Americans,” Kayje Booker, policy and advocacy director at Montana Wilderness Association, said. “It’s hard to imagine anyone in this position more dangerous than William Perry Pendley.”