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Montana governor presses to remove Trump’s public lands boss

Matthew Brown
Associated Press

Billings, Mont. – 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the former industry attorney hangs onto the post despite the White House saying Saturday that his nomination would be withdrawn.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 he’s never had a Senate confirmation hearing. The bureau oversees almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West.

In this Oct. 11, 2019, file photo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William "Perry" Pendley speaks at a conference for journalists in Fort Collins, Colo.

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, have said previously that Bullock’s lawsuit is frivolous. Interior officials did not offer an immediate response to Thursday’s court filing.

Pendley was formally nominated for the director’s post in June, almost a year after he was named acting director by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The White House did not give any reason for why the nomination was being withdrawn in disclosing its plans on Aug. 15. The withdrawal won’t become final until the Senate returns to session.