NOEL KING, HOST:
The Bureau of Land Management manages about a tenth of all the land in the United States. And yet President Trump has not named a permanent director. There is an acting chief, a man named William Perry Pendley. But Democrats and environmentalists have called for him to step down. NPR's Kirk Siegler explains why.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: William Perry Pendley served in President Reagan's Department of Interior. He left after an ethics controversy and went on to build his career in the private sector. As a private property rights activist and attorney, he frequently challenged the agency he's now in charge of. Conservationists have seized on writings Pendley made as recently as 2016 that defended so-called sagebrush rebels like scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy who want federal public lands turned over to states or private interests.
TALASI BROOKS: If you're managing public lands with that agenda, you can't be trusted to enforce the law.
SIEGLER: Talasi Brooks is a staff attorney with the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project. Her group and dozens more environmentalists penned a letter to Pendley's boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, urging for his ouster.
BROOKS: He's advocated for this really extremist and extremely unpopular with the public position that the public lands should be given back to the states and not held for the public good.
SIEGLER: The Interior Department did not make Pendley available for an interview, but a spokesperson called the environmentalists' claims, quote, "laughable," adding that Pendley brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role. Pendley is the fourth acting director to lead BLM under President Trump, which fits a pattern in the administration. In the Interior Department alone, the National Park Service has had an acting director since Trump took office and, until a few weeks ago, same with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Pendley's latest extension comes at a particularly pivotal moment for the BLM, though. The Trump administration is fast-tracking drilling on federal land, and Pendley is overseeing the BLM's controversial planned relocation of its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo. Here he is defending the move in a BLM promotional video.
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WILLIAM PERRY PENDLEY: We want them closer to the lands they manage and the people they work with rather than two and even four time zones away in Washington.
SIEGLER: It's still not clear whether Pendley will be formally nominated to run the BLM. His temporary appointment to lead the agency has now been extended until April 3. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Boise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.