Seven weeks from the presidential election, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Colorado was mad that "the most extreme, anti-public lands nominee in my lifetime" had been allowed to lead the Bureau of Land Management since June.
Others have also criticized the nomination of William Perry Pendley's history of interests adverse to stewardship of the nation's inventory of public lands.
The White House said last month it would withdraw the nomination. Pendley, however, still serves, Bennet charged on the Senate floor Tuesday.
A native of Cheyenne, Pendley formerly led the Lakewood-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, which has advocated for selling some federal lands in Western states, earning him the ire of environmental groups.
"Asking someone like that to manage our public lands, including 8.3 million acres in Colorado, is like asking somebody to be secretary of education who doesn’t believe in public education," Bennet said on the floor. "And, given the track record of this administration, I guess it’s not that surprising that he put somebody in charge of public lands who believes they are actually illegal or unconstitutional."
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, never committed to supporting the nomination, even though he helped drive the decision to move the BLM to Grand Junction last year. Bennet has been opposed from the start.
In his speech Tuesday, Bennet said: “I think fundamental to this is that his extreme ideology does not perceive or conceive the economic reality in Colorado or New Mexico or Nevada or Arizona or Montana – where public lands sustain local businesses, and climate change is undermining our farmers and ranchers.”
He threw shade at Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, as well.
"Every now and then, you’d expect the leader of this body to stand up for the prerogatives of this body," Bennet said. "To stand up for the separation of powers and for the rule of law, particularly if you call yourself a constitutional conservative.”
You can watch the speech by clicking here.
Bennet’s office provided his floor remarks as delivered:
Thank you, Mr. President.
Thank you, and I appreciate very much my colleague from Nevada.
Let me start, Mr. President, by welcoming you back to the Senate and by saying that we’re glad that you’re here and that you’re feeling better.
And to my colleague from New Mexico, my neighbor, the senior senator from New Mexico, Senator Udall, thank you for organizing us today – this is, I know, a matter that’s very close to your heart.
Thanks in large part to Senator Udall’s leadership and the senator from Arizona’s leadership, and others, we’ve worked really hard to not have public lands be a partisan issue in the Senate, and I think that reflects the way it is out West, where our public lands really are the foundation of our economy and who we are. They make us who we are. They are a cultural touchstone for all of us in the West.
And instead of comprehending this, President Trump – as he has done in so many other areas – has pursued a public lands agenda that is way outside the mainstream of conventional American thought.
Few decisions better capture how extreme that position is – and how fringe his agenda is – than his decision to hire William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management.
As we’ve heard today, Mr. President, Mr. Pendley doesn’t even believe in the idea of public lands. He’s argued that the founding fathers intended for all federal lands to be sold.
Think about what that would’ve meant, Mr. President, if we had sold off the public lands of the United States – they are the envy of the world. They are the envy of the world. And all the work that Teddy Roosevelt and others had done to make sure that our generation would be able to benefit would have been lost if Pendley’s constitutional interpretation had control.
Asking someone like that to manage our public lands, including 8.3 million acres in Colorado, is like asking somebody to be secretary of education who doesn’t believe in public education. And, given the track record of this administration, I guess it’s not that surprising that he put somebody in charge of public lands who believes they are actually illegal or unconstitutional.
Mr. Pendley is by far the most extreme, anti-public lands nominee in my lifetime. And, you’ve heard the senator from New Mexico talk about his attacks on people of color. You’ve heard about the fact that he doesn’t believe in climate change.
Pendley’s ideology – on public lands, on climate, on so many other issues – doesn’t look anything like the consensus that we’ve worked so hard to try to establish in Colorado. And I think fundamental to this is that his extreme ideology does not perceive or conceive the economic reality in Colorado or New Mexico or Nevada or Arizona or Montana – where public lands sustain local businesses, and climate change is undermining our farmers and ranchers.
And since the BLM moved to Colorado – sort of – we’ve had a front row seat to this extremist agenda. This spring, Pendley signed off on a resource management plan that opened up the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison – one of our most beautiful agricultural valleys in Colorado – to more oil and gas development.
Local leaders worried that his plan failed to protect the region’s watershed and will threaten the area’s agricultural and outdoor economy. Instead of listening to Colorado, Mr. Pendley signed off on a plan, as he so often does, written in Washington by a bunch of special interests here, who want to plunder our land out there.
As senators, we have a constitutional responsibility, Mr. President, to ensure that the people entrusted with leading our federal agencies are, at a minimum, qualified for the positions they hold, and, I would hope, within the mainstream of conventional American political ideologies.
But we’ve not been allowed to do that in this case. Mr. Pendley was nominated by the president to lead the BLM, and the response was so negative that I have to imagine there were senators on the other side of the aisle who said, Senator McConnell please don’t make us take this vote, please – I’ve got a tough election coming up, don’t make me take this vote, Mr. President. I’m scared to take this vote. And as a result, they withdrew his nomination, because it couldn’t pass the Senate.
That’s how this is how it’s supposed to work. You can always put it on the floor and see whether we’ll support it. In this case, the response was so negative, they withdrew the nomination. That happens regularly. What’s incredibly unusual in this case is, they left him in his job. So having demonstrated that there was no public support in the Senate – the Senate unwilling to take a vote for fear of how unpopular it would be in the Western United States – they said, well, you can be the acting BLM Director. That is a disgrace.
I don’t know how anybody in this chamber could call themselves committed to the United States Constitution if a president can nominate somebody, see that the votes aren’t there, withdraw it, and make them the acting director of the agency.
That’s the work of a dictator, not the president of the United States.
Every now and then, you’d expect the leader of this body to stand up for the prerogatives of this body. To stand up for the separation of powers and for the rule of law, particularly if you call yourself a constitutional conservative.
We have a choice to make – to do nothing, or do our jobs. The American people want us to do our jobs. They’re sick of the dysfunction here.
And from the perspective of Colorado, the decision on Mr. Pendley is simple: Someone who’s spent his entire career opposed to the very idea of public lands is unfit to lead a land management agency. Period.
Mr. President, he should do the right thing if the president won’t and step down immediately and allow somebody take on the responsibility that actually understands how important it is to preserve the legacy our parents and grandparents created for us, so that we can preserve it for the next generation of Americans and the generation after that.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.