September 25, 2020


Public land sell-off halted till next Prez term

Public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the US is some of the most important for off-grid communities – including those who live in vans and RVs, but also for millions of ordinary Americans who depend on it for livelihood and outdoor activities.

Under President Trump there has been a permanent threat of a massive sell-off, but a Montana judge’s ruling has effectively removed the risk until after the November election, the New York Times reported.

The federal judge in Montana ordered William Perry Pendley, whose appointment was not confirmed by the Senate, to leave the position of BLM acting Director.

Mr. Pendley, who had held the job since he was “temporarily” appointed in July 2019, was also prohibited from using any authority to make decisions about federal lands. President Trump had nominated Mr. Pendley to fill the position on a permanent basis in July 2020 but withdrew the nomination this month.

“Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” the judge, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, wrote in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday.

Judge Morris added that Mr. Pendley’s ascent “did not follow any of the permissible paths set forth by the U.S. Constitution.”

The ruling also prevented Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who appointed Mr. Pendley, from picking another person to run the bureau.

Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who filed a lawsuit in July against Mr. Pendley and Mr. Bernhardt, called the ruling “a win for the Constitution, the rule of law, and our public lands.” Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, cheered the decision on Saturday, National Public Lands Day.

The ruling was a significant victory for Mr. Bullock, a former presidential candidate who is running for the United States Senate in a tight race against Steve Daines, the Republican incumbent.

The Bureau of Land Management has been without a Senate-confirmed director since Neil Kornze left in January 2017. Since then, five people have been appointed to the position — and none received Senate approval.

Conner Swanson, a spokesman for the Interior Department, said the ruling was “an outrageous decision that is well outside the bounds of the law.”

“It betrays longstanding practice of the department going back several administrations,” he said in an email. “We will be appealing this decision immediately.”

The department noted that under President Barack Obama’s leadership, Mary L. Kendall, the department’s former deputy inspector general, served as acting inspector general for years even though the Senate never confirmed her appointment. Ms. Kendall resigned in 2019, shortly after her office opened an investigation into ethical complaints about Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and agribusiness industries.

“The department is unaware of any Democrat voicing similar concerns related to this issue during

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