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Tester's Bill Blocks DOJ from Appealing Pendley Ouster

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A court order has invalidated two resource management plans in Montana that were approved while William Perry Pendley was acting director of the BLM. (Eric Coulter/BLM)
A court order has invalidated two resource management plans in Montana that were approved while William Perry Pendley was acting director of the BLM. (Eric Coulter/BLM)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
October 23, 2020

HELENA, Mont. - Sen. Jon Tester - D-Mont. - has introduced a bill that would bar the Department of Justice from appealing a court order ousting William Perry Pendley as acting head of the Bureau of Land Management.

Gov. Steve Bullock brought - and won - a case against the BLM, charging that Pendley was illegally acting as agency director without Senate confirmation. But the Interior Department has vowed to appeal.

Aubrey Bertram, eastern Montana field director with the Montana Wilderness Association, said that prompted Tester to introduce the Public Lands Leadership Act, noting Pendley's anti-public-lands stances in the past.

"Specifically citing how toxic William Perry Pendley is and how drastically unfit he is to lead the largest public-lands management agency in the country," said Bertram.

The Interior Department questions the constitutionality of the bill, although there are precedents for this kind of legislation. Sen. Steve Daines - R-Mont. - accuses Tester of "playing politics" with the bill to help Daines' opponent, Gov. Steve Bullock, in the upcoming election.

President Donald Trump formally nominated Pendley in June, then withdrew the nomination in September.

Last month's court order also invalidates two Resource Management Plans in Montana finalized under Pendley's leadership. Eastern Montana hunter and conservationist Andrew McKean noted there's some irony to invalidating the Lewistown RMP, which opened up 95% of the area to oil and gas leasing.

He said there were a lot of comments from people who hunt and recreate in the area, that don't appear to have been considered in the final analysis.

"Looking back over this troubled tenure of Pendley," said McKean, "it kind of shows what can happen when you have an unelected and an unconfirmed bureaucrat making these decisions that really don't have any reflection on the land or among the constituents."

Despite the court order, Pendley has continued working at the BLM. Bertram said Americans deserve more transparency about who's in charge at the agency.

"As the ultimate collective owners of these lands, we deserve to know," said Bertram, "very definitively and very clearly - who is leading this organization, who is making these decisions, how that authority is being delegated. These should not be up for debate. They shouldn't be something that we have to speculate on."

Disclosure: Montana Wilderness Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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