Environmentalists demanded Monday the resignation of William Perry Pendley, head of the Bureau of Land Management, as the agency moves ahead with plans to relocate most of its staff from Washington, D.C., to the West.
In a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a group of 91 environmental, wildlife and progressive groups called for Mr. Pendley to resign or be removed as BLM deputy director of policy and programs, where he exercises the authority of the director.
The organizations cited Mr. Pendley’s ambiguous interim status; his support for giving local law enforcement “primary responsibility” for enforcing state and local laws, and his role in leading the relocation of senior BLM staff to Grand Junction, Colorado.
“We also are gravely concerned that Deputy Director Pendley’s mismanagement of a move of top BLM personnel from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado is causing long-term damage to the agency entrusted with the largest acreage of American public lands,” said the letter.
The groups accused Mr. Pendley of “demoralizing career employees at the same time he is undermining the operational effectiveness of the agency,” while the Interior Department said the letter was penned by “environmental extremists.”
Among the signers were well-known liberal environmental groups like the Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians, as well as progressive outfits like the Movement for a People’s Party and Maryland United for Peace and Justice, and the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.
“For this group of environmental extremists to call themselves sportsman and conservationists is as laughable as this letter,” said an Interior spokesperson in a statement. “Mr. Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Department and is committed to carrying out the Administration’s priorities for the betterment of the American people.”
The letter comes with the BLM’s Western relocation underway as the Trump administration seeks to bring public-lands decision-making closer to the Western communities tied to the 245 million acres managed by the agency.
Foes of the Western relocation have argued that the BLM will lose clout and experienced personnel by moving the agency headquarters to Grand Junction, a town of 62,000 near the Utah border, and scattering other staff to offices in states such as California, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming.
Despite predictions that most staff would quit rather than leave the Beltway, about two-thirds of the 153 employees who received relocation letters have indicated they will move with their positions.
“I want to assure you that when we complete this move in the spring, the BLM, the West and the American people all will be better for it,” said Mr. Pendley in a Dec. 22 op-ed in the Casper Star-Tribune. “We look forward to saying ‘Howdy’ to our new neighbors, not just at our new headquarters in Grand Junction or at our various offices throughout the West, but as a welcomed addition to our community.”
While Congress approved funding for the reorganization in the recently approved spending bill, the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2020 also included language criticizing Interior for a lack of communication and directed the department to provide monthly briefings on the relocation, according to the Public Lands Foundation.
“Many employees have requested extensions of time to actually report for duty at their new locations, and some of them probably are continuing to look for other jobs,” said the PLF’s George Stone. “Whether they ultimately move or not, only time will tell.”
Last month, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva asked the Government Accounting Office to review “the decision-making process behind the attempted forced move to assess whether career staff were consulted, what funds are being used, and whether the agency’s goals are compatible with the proposal.”
The former head of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver, Mr. Pendley has long feuded with environmentalists — the Washington Post called him an “anti-government zealot” — who opposed Mr. Bernhardt’s decision in July to have him lead the BLM.
Meanwhile, the BLM has leased office space on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction, where 40 positions are expected to be filled, including some that went vacant thanks to the high cost of living in Washington,.
“As a result of that, we’re going to have to hire people here. It’s an exciting opportunity for us,” Mr. Pendley told the Grand Junction Sentinel.