Judge Opens Door to Lawsuits Challenging Pendley Decisions Spanning 30 Million Acres of Public Land

Here’s a press release from WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity. A link to the federal judge’s motion is here and more information about the Pendley decisions the groups will seek to overturn and invalidate is here.

HELENA, Montana — A federal judge denied a motion from conservation groups late Friday to support a lawsuit involving William Perry Pendley’s unlawful tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Monument, opening the door to new lawsuits challenging Pendley’s decisions on land management plans and other policies. The plans allow fossil fuel extraction, mining and other industrialization across millions of acres of public lands in 11 states, including within the former boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

In September the judge ruled that Pendley’s tenure was unlawful, in response to a lawsuit by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and asked Bullock and the federal government to list public-lands decisions made by Pendley during that tenure. The same judge today denied a motion by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians to file an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit and submit a list of Pendley decisions that should be invalidated.

“Pendley never should have been allowed to set foot in the building, much less approve these disastrous plans that industrialize our public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “His corrupt, illegal anti-public-lands agenda was a train wreck for the climate, wildlife and our spectacular wild places. We’ll go to court to make sure Pendley’s illegal decisions end up in the dumpster where they belong.”

The groups will seek to overturn and invalidate Pendley’s decisions approving at least 16 resource-management plans and other projects that open 30 millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas drilling, mining and grazing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. The plans include expanding coal mining in Montana and open-pit copper mining in Arizona and allowing fracking across more than 1 million acres in California — the first leases since 2013.

“During his illegal tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, Pendley has wreaked havoc on public lands,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. “He, and the administration that kept unlawfully giving him authority, need to be held accountable for the damage they have done, if not in this lawsuit, then through another lawsuit or some other enforcement of the law.”

Under Pendley the Bureau of Land Management has amended resource-management plans to enable decades of fossil fuel expansion and climate pollution on public lands across the West.

“Judge Morris’s September 25 decision articulates the rationale for invalidation of an untold number of reckless decisions that were approved on Pendley’s watch,” said Melissa Hornbein, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “While we hoped to have the opportunity to introduce a subset of those decisions into the current litigation, the denial of our motion in no way undermines the fundamental unlawfulness of those agency actions or narrows the Court’s original decision.”

Resource-management plans are 20-year management blueprints for public lands that govern every activity across the landscape, including which lands are open to fracking and drilling and which areas are protected for their ecological and wildlife values. The Bureau of Land Management director has sole decision-making authority over administrative protests that raise concerns about these plans.

In his September decision saying Pendley had served unlawfully, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that any duty that Pendley performed during his 424 days as acting director of the Bureau “would have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.”

“Judge Morris got it right when he declared Pendley’s appointment to head the BLM illegal, and pointed out that decisions made under Pendley’s direction were likewise unlawful,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “We’re going to keep working to overturn these illegal decisions through other legal filings.”

4 thoughts on “Judge Opens Door to Lawsuits Challenging Pendley Decisions Spanning 30 Million Acres of Public Land”

  1. I don’t see why they couldn’t just get appoint an Acting and get them to “remake” all the decisions. Does anyone understand why this wouldn’t work? Certainly the lack of confirmed appointments doesn’t make agency decisions stop.

  2. Also part of that decision:
    “Morris’s decision invalidates three land management plans Pendley supervised in Montana, including one that would open 95 percent of 650,000 acres of BLM land to resource extraction like mining and drilling.”

    What I read above is that Pendley was the deciding official on administrative objections to the RMPs and other decisions. I suppose BLM could just have someone else with authority sign the objection decision, but it may take them awhile to get someone else in place who is in compliance with the process of succession orders spelled out in the law – which they seem to have made a big mess of. (Though maybe the Secretary could sign them.)

    • Yes, I was also wondering about the Sec signing them. You would have to know all the ins and outs of the approval regulations, which (Thank Gaia!) I do not.


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