House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) urged the Department of the Interior to press pause on many of its public lands decisions after its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) de facto director was ousted by the courts.
The Department of the Interior responded by saying it would not be pushed to remove William Perry Pendley from the department.
A decision from U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris last month determined Pendley had “served unlawfully … for 424 days” and tossed major land management plans he oversaw in Montana.
Pendley, a controversial figure due in part to his history of opposing federal ownership of the lands he now manages, served at the department through a series of temporary orders, remaining in the job even after his formal nomination was withdrawn.
He now serves in a deputy director role, but in recent interviews he has given conflicting responses to the court decision, saying both that he would respect the ruling and that it had “no impact, no impact whatsoever” on his role within the department.
“The Department’s misguided efforts to will away the illegality of this appointment do a serious disservice to the American public,” Grijalva wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt late Friday.
“Rather than carefully considering the impacts of this ruling in an effort to improve the management of our public lands, the Department’s decision to proceed with business as usual will only create grounds for numerous additional lawsuits and injunctions,” he continued. “I strongly urge that you reconsider this path of action and make every effort to comply with the District Court’s ruling.”
Interior, which has pledged to appeal the court ruling, has been under increasing pressure to comply with Morris’s decision.
A bill introduced by Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Green groups seek overturn of Colorado land plans after court decision ousting Pendley Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives MORE (D-Mont.) earlier this week would block the Trump administration from appealing the case, which was brought by Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockInterior says Pendley to remain at BLM despite ‘dramatic tweets’ from Democrats Democrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race MORE (D).
But the department mocked the letter after the committee tweeted about Grijalva’s letter.
“No amount of dramatic tweets can remove William Perry Pendley from his role as @BLMNational’s Deputy Director of Programs and Policy,” the Interior Press Secretary account wrote on twitter.
The letter spells out a number of potential ramifications of the ruling.
“Other [resource management plans] are clearly at risk,” Grijalva said, after noting the three that were invalidated by the court order, one of which would open 95 percent of 650,000 acres of BLM land to resource extraction like mining and drilling.
Pendley’s media interviews following the court decision have confused some.
“If there’s something that needs action by the director of the Bureau of Land Management, I won’t be doing that. The judge said I can’t do that. And so, I won’t be doing that,” he told a public radio station earlier this month.
But then he again reiterated, “I have not been ousted. I’m still at my desk,” adding that he had the support of the president and the Interior Department.