Conservation Groups Protest as BLM Boss Opens Grand Junction HQ

Conservation groups plan to form an "unwelcoming committee" for controversial acting BLM director William Perry Pendley, who begins work at the agency's new Grand Junction office on January 2.
Conservation groups plan to form an "unwelcoming committee" for controversial acting BLM director William Perry Pendley, who begins work at the agency's new Grand Junction office on January 2. Courtesy Clean Water Action and Rig to Flip

Republican officials are celebrating the opening of the Bureau of Land Management’s new Grand Junction headquarters. But the agency’s top staff are reportedly planning to exit rather than make the move, which environmental groups say is a deliberate effort to weaken the agency and fast-track the development of public lands.

William Perry Pendley, the BLM’s acting director and former president of the Lakewood-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, is expected to begin working at the agency’s new Grand Junction office today, January 2. For now, roughly ten employees will be joining him there, according to local officials quoted last month by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Conservation groups Clean Water Action and Rig to Flip plan to greet Pendley with an “unwelcoming committee” protest outside the BLM’s new office building, which it will share with multiple oil and gas companies. The agency ultimately plans to relocate 27 top staffers to Grand Junction, part of a sweeping "reorganization" that will scatter hundreds of employees currently based in Washington to field offices across the West, where 97 percent of the BLM's workforce is already located.

Democrats and environmental advocates say the BLM's reorganization — championed by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a Rifle native and longtime oil lobbyist — is a thinly veiled attempt to force out experienced civil servants and throw the agency's complex environmental review processes into chaos. Earlier this week, a coalition of 91 conservation groups sent a letter to Bernhardt calling for Pendley's ouster.

“We 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,” the letter read. "Pendley holds views that are antithetical to the BLM’s mission to manage public lands and resources on behalf of all Americans."

In a 2016 National Review column headlined "The Federal Government Should Follow the Constitution and Sell Its Western Lands," Pendley wrote of the government's "continuing duty to dispose of its lands,” and argued that after decades of federal mismanagement, "westerners know that only getting title to much of the land in the West will bring real change."

Pendley has also repeatedly denied the existence of climate change, and referred to undocumented immigrants as "a cancer" in a 2007 newsletter. In an October appearance at an environmental journalism conference in Fort Collins, Pendley claimed that his past views didn't matter. "What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant," he said.

Nearly three years into his administration, President Donald Trump still hasn't nominated a permanent BLM director, instead relying on interim heads like Pendley, whose tenure as acting director began in July. Under an order signed by Bernhardt in September, his current term is due to expire tomorrow, January 3, leading to speculation that Trump could soon formally nominate him to lead the BLM.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff