Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to overturn a plan for public lands in southwestern Colorado, saying it was approved while William Perry Pendley headed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and a federal court has ruled that his tenure was unlawful.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado, amends an earlier complaint that challenged the BLM’s approval of a plan to open up more public land in the southwest part of the state to oil and gas drilling. It follows a decision earlier this month by a federal judge that threw out three BLM land-use plans in Montana.
The judge, Brian Morris, ruled in September that Pendley served unlawfully as the acting BLM director. Morris said Pendley served in that role for 424 days, violating a federal law that caps at 210 days the time an acting director can serve in a position that requires Senate confirmation.
And any action taken by a person serving as an acting director in violation of the law “shall have no force or effect,” Morris said. Montana Gov Steve Bullock, who challenged Pendley’s tenure, asked the judge to block the land-use plans in his state.
About 60 different conservation organizations recently wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that he should set aside all management plans, decisions and regulations that Pendley was involved with during the14 months he was acting director.
Natasha Léger, executive director of the Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, said that the land-use plan for southwest Colorado, issued earlier this year by the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office, should be invalidated like the Montana plans were.
“This is the first step in scrubbing the stain of Pendley’s corrupt, unlawful legacy from our public lands,” Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
The Interior Department has disputed that Pendley was ever designated as the acting director of the BLM. Bernhardt will continue to lead the department and all of its bureaus, including the BLM, and will rely on the BLM’s management team, including Pendley, the deputy director for Programs and policy, “who will continue to serve in his leadership role at the Bureau of Land Management,” according to a statement by Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s solicitor.
In addition, the final decision on the resource management plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office was signed by BLM Colorado State Director Jamie Connell, not Pendley, the national BLM office said in an email Tuesday.
“These special interest groups are trying to impose their radical environmental agenda on the hard-working people of Colorado, negatively impacting recreation access, conservation and energy development,” BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said in an email.
The Trump administration has never named a permanent BLM director. President President Trump said in June that he would nominate Pendley, but backtracked after intense criticism from advocacy groups and Democratic senators.
Pendley, a native of Wyoming, is the former president of the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, known for challenging public lands regulations.
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