Trump’s land boss to steer clear of ex-clients

Matthew Brown
Associated Press

Billings, Mont. – The Trump administration’s top steward of public lands has recused himself from work involving dozens of former clients following conflict of interest allegations from lawmakers and environmental advocates, federal officials disclosed Wednesday.

Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William “Perry” Pendley is a former property rights attorney who has argued for selling off public lands and long railed against what he has labelled as the “tyranny” of the federal government.

William “Perry” Pendley

Pendley said in a Wednesday email to his staff obtained by The Associated Press that he wanted to set an example for the agency’s 9,000 employees by avoiding the potential conflicts.

He agreed not to participate in matters involving 57 entities and individuals – from farming and mining organizations to an energy company seeking to drill on land adjacent to Glacier National Park, according to documents released by officials.

“I understand that preserving a culture of ethical compliance within the BLM begins with me,” Pendley wrote. “I have also established a rigorous screening process to ensure that I will remain in full compliance.”

The recusals will be effective for two years from the date of his mid-July appointment.

Montana U.S. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has sharply criticized Pendley’s past calls to sell off public lands and called his appointment an end-run around the Senate since no confirmation hearings were held.

Pendley has argued that his longtime advocacy for selling public lands was “irrelevant” because his boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, opposes the wholesale sale of public lands. Pendley made the remark in a radio station interview last month.

Among Pendley’s past clients when he ran the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation was Solenex LLC, a Louisiana-based company that has been seeking to drill for oil and gas in the remote and mountainous Badger-Two Medicine area of northwestern Montana.

The area is considered sacred to the Blackfoot Tribes of the U.S. and Canada, and Solenex is fighting in court against the Interior Department’s attempts to cancel an energy lease that that the company has held for decades.

Tim Preso, an attorney for drilling opponents, said Pendley’s recusal in the dispute was overdue.

“This is appropriate,” Preso said. “The key thing is that Pendley will apparently not be in a position to get the Interior Department to back out of its promises concerning protection for the Badger-Two Medicine.”