Trump withdrew Pendley’s nomination on Saturday because it could have caused problems for three Republican senators in tough re-election races who would have voted whether to confirm him: Steve Daines of Montana, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona. He is expected to remain as acting director.
“President Trump’s Senate Republican allies appear uncomfortable voting to confirm such a controversial nominee,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “They should be similarly uncomfortable with allowing Pendley to keep working for the federal government.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who is running against Daines, filed one of two federal lawsuits about Pendley’s appointment. Bullock’s lawsuit says Pendley is violating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act which prohibits acting officers from running agencies while their nominations are pending before the Senate.
The Western Watersheds Project, an environmental watchdog, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, also sued over Pendley’s appointment. Both cases are pending.
The bureau oversees 247 million acres of public land, roughly the size of Texas and California combined, more land than any other federal agency. The bureau has not had a Senate-confirmed director since Trump took office.
All 45 of the Senate’s Democrats and the two independents wrote Trump in August, asking him to withdraw the nomination, saying he was “unfit for the position.”
Pendley previously ran Mountain States Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for private property rights, and sued the Interior Department, which he is now a part of, at least 40 times. Pendley also worked under James Watt in the early 1980s as deputy assistant secretary of the Minerals Management Service.
In November, he publicly undermined the agency’s rangers, writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that they should defer to local law enforcement. His words could lead to potentially violent confrontations with bureau employees who routinely face threats, harassment and violence from people upset about restrictions on public land.