This Pro-Drilling Trump Official Says the Founding Fathers Wanted to Sell Off All Public Lands

By Alan Zibel

Should miners drill for uranium under the Grand Canyon? Should there be a casino at Yosemite National Park? Should resort owners be allowed to set up a luxury spa at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park? Should Arches National Park feature McDonald’s famous arches?

These questions, while admittedly absurd, are worth asking to William Perry Pendley, the Trump administration official who has been acting as the top official at the Bureau of Land Management since mid-2019. Under Trump, the BLM is moving its headquarters, including its top officials, to Grand Junction, Colo in the same office building as oil and gas companies. The agency has lacked a Senate-confirmed director for the entire Trump administration.

Rather than nominate Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management, the arm of the U.S. Interior Department that manages 245 million acres of federal lands, President Trump has instead decided to extend Pendley’s authority to perform the functions of the BLM’s director until April 3. More than 90 organizations, including Public Citizen, have called for Pendley’s removal from the job.

Through this bureaucratic maneuver, Pendley has all the powers of the BLM’s director. But he will escape a high-profile battle over his confirmation, where lawmakers could dive deep into Pendley’s extreme views and checkered past.

Pendley wrote in a 2016 National Review essay that the Founding Fathers “intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold” because jurisdiction over property law was given to the states, an argument that mainstream legal scholars generally regard as outlandish.

So, who is William Perry Pendley?

As an Interior Department official during the Reagan Administration, Pendley was an enthusiastic proponent of maximum resource exploitation.

“Our objective should be to lease more than enough coal to allow the states, industry, and the market place to function freely,” Pendley wrote in a May 1981 memo published last fall by E&E News.

A 1983 federal review of the Interior Department actions under Reagan’s Interior Secretary, James Watt, found that the government sold off Wyoming and Montana coal leases for $100 million less than their market value. A highly critical report examined contacts between Pendley and another Interior Department official with a coal company lawyer, including a nearly $500 dinner at Le Pavilion restaurant attended by Pendley and his wife.

After leaving Reagan’s Interior Department under cloud of scandal, Pendley spent his career working to facilitate the sale of public lands to the energy and mining industries during nearly 30 years as president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a far-right anti-regulation group. Mountain States, which launched the careers of Republican two Interior secretaries, James Watt and Gale Norton, generally views environmental regulations as “property takings” and fights regulations in court with the sponsorship of right-wing and corporate donors.

One recent example: Pendley has represented Louisiana-based energy firm Solenex LLC, which has been seeking to overturn an Obama administration decision canceling an oil lease in a remote area considered sacred by the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.

Pendley’s 17-page recusal list  lays out 57 companies and individuals, including farming, mining and energy concerns, that make up Pendley’s former clients, employers and other financial interests.

Pendley also has a long track record of climate change denial and intolerant statements.

Pendley has written that “illegal immigration is spreading like a cancer,” mocked Native Americans, claimed that children filing a climate change lawsuit cannot show evidence of a threat to their future, mocked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D.-Minn.) and retweeted an anti-Muslim blog’s take on the conviction of a Muslim former police officer’s sentencing for the fatal shooting  of a white woman.

Even in the Trump administration — the most corrupt and anti-immigrant administration in modern times, the decision to put Pendley in charge of a major federal agency should shock the conscience.