BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Democratic governor asked a federal judge Thursday to take swift action to remove the Trump administration’s chief steward of public lands, as the former industry attorney hangs onto the post despite the White House saying Saturday that his nomination would be withdrawn.
Attorneys for Gov. Steve Bullock said William Perry Pendley’s continuing leadership of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management undermines conservation efforts and is illegal because Pendley never had a Senate confirmation hearing.
The bureau oversees almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West, and regulates activities ranging from mining and oil extraction to livestock grazing and recreation.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Pendley remains in charge of the bureau under an arrangement that Pendley himself set up months ago. In a May 22 order, Pendley made his own position, deputy director, the bureau’s top post while the director’s office is vacant.
Since establishing that succession order, Pendley has approved two sweeping land resource management plans that would open 95% of federal land in Montana to oil and gas development, attorneys for Bullock said in Thursday’s request for U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to expedite a July lawsuit filed by the governor.
“William Perry Pendley is breaking the law, and at stake are over 27 million acres of public lands in Montana,” Bullock said in a statement.
Officials with the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Land Management, said the governor’s lawsuit was “nonsense” and a waste of taxpayer resources.
“Governor Bullock is naturally seeking to expedite his frivolous and politically motivated claim that has no legal standing,” said Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin.
Before he joined the Trump administration, Pendley was a longtime industry attorney and property rights advocate from Wyoming. He was vocal about his desire to sell public lands and critical of what he described as the federal government’s “tyranny” in enforcing environmental laws.
He said he stifled those views when he joined the administration and would follow his superior’s orders.
Trump nominated him the director’s post in June, almost a year after Pendley assumed the role in an acting capacity director under an authorization from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
A second lawsuit from environmentalists challenging Pendley’s control over the agency is pending in federal court in Washington, D.C.
The White House did not specify why his nomination was being withdrawn in disclosing its plans on Aug. 15. The withdrawal won’t become final until the Senate returns to session.