Interior Secretary David Bernhardt named William Perry Pendley as deputy director of policy and programs for the Bureau of Land Management in July of 2017. Since then, Pendley has served as acting head of the Bureau, with Bernhard extending his tenure by Secretarial Order in May of 2020. Interior is now facing multiple lawsuits that allege Pendley’s repeat appointments without Senate confirmation are illegal.
Prior to his political appointment to Interior, Pendley ran a legal organization called the Mountain States Legal Foundation. As this report shows, MSLF received significant funding from the fossil fuel industry, including large grants from oil billionaire Charles Koch and ExxonMobil.
Funding records obtained by Documented show the oil and gas industry has supported MSLF’s message. These Schedule B records are typically redacted from public filings, but reveal critical information about industry funding. Based on available records, MSLF has received significant funding from oil, gas, and mining interests.
Exxon has been a contributor to the group since at least 1998 through to 2017. The Charles Koch Foundation gave large grants to MSLF in 2015 and 2016. Chevron, Shell, Anadarko, and Devon Energy have all made contributions
In addition to being funded by oil money, Pendley and MSLF have worked closely with powerful oil and gas figures. Diemer True, who inherited an oil fortune, served on the board of MSLF. True also served in leadership positions with the Independent Petroleum Association of America, one of the top lobbyists for the US industry. IPAA was a major client of lobbyist turned Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Pendley’s anti-lands stance mirrors that of other anti-government extremists, like the Bundy family, which staged an armed takeover of a bird sanctuary in Oregon.
Pendley, like the the Bundys, is a key member of the “wise use movement” – a coalition of groups that seek to remove public lands from federal oversight and protection. Another leader of Wise Use, The Heartland Institute’s Ron Arnold, described Pendley and MSLF’s role this way :
“The Wise Use movement has within just the last few years, achieved that mature kind of segmentation which shows it is a true movement. Think of this, you’ve got the property rights segment, for example Ann Corcoran’s land rights letter and the movement that she’s running. The pro-industry segment as represented by Rose Marie Watkins, American Forest Resource Alliance. The pro-industry consumerist segment, Barbara Keatings Consumer Alert, for example. The media segment, Reed Irvine’s “Accuracy in Media”. The producer’s segment is embodied in Dave Power’s Alliance for America. The limited government segment is seen in Jim Burling’s Pacific Legal Foundation and Perry Pendley’s Mountain States Legal Foundation.”
Wise Use groups are usually funded by oil and cattle interests.
- Pendley has built a career dedicated to undermining public lands and their protections. His brief stint in public service is marked by enriching the coal industry and undercutting American taxpayers. He holds views that are antithetical to the BLM’s mission to manage resources on behalf of all Americans and is uniformly unqualified to run the agency.
- Pendley joined Karen Budd-Falen at the Interior Department, another senior official who has spent her career “fighting against the very existence of U.S. public lands,” according to the Center for Western Priorities. In context of Sec. Bernhardt’s recent announcement to disassemble the BLM by moving its headquarters and scattering senior officials across the West, the recent personnel and policy decisions reveal an administration intent on dismantling and weakening the agency in order to appease industry and sell out America’s public lands.
Background on Pendley: Between 1981 and 1984, Pendley was the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals. He served under Interior Secretary James Watt, who resigned under a cloud of corruption after reports showed him being too closely tied to private interests. In 1984, Pendley was criticized by an independent commission for mismanaging the agency’s coal-leasing program to benefit industry, and shorting taxpayers approximately $100 million in a Powder River Basin sale that was below fair market value. From 1989 through 2018 – nearly 30 years – Pendley was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), where he frequently sued federal agencies to challenge conservation policies and regulations, including national monument designations.
- Pendley calls for selling off public lands: Pendley authored a January 2016 article in the National Review in which he decried federal land ownership, and argued the U.S. Constitution all but requires the federal government to sell the lands it owns in the West. At the BLM, he will now oversee 245 million acres of public lands.
- Pendley wants to strip protections for wildlife: In a 1993 USA Today op-ed, Pendley called the Endangered Species Act a “disaster” and said the “implementation of the act is little more than a land grab, as federal officials demand that private lands be handed over to the U.S. government as the price for economic activity.” He now joins a department that is actively working to stripaway longstanding ESA protections.
- Pendley embraces extreme views and is a climate denier: Pendley has authored numerous articles and books that attack the U.S. government, including a 1995 book: War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier and It Takes A Hero: The Grassroots Battle Against Environmental Oppression. Under his direction, the MSLF publicly supported Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff with BLM officials in 2014 over land-use issues. On social media, he has revealed himself to be a climate denier and has repeatedly criticized diversity initiatives in the United States.
- Pendley’s conflicts of interests: A number of conservation groups have voiced their concern about Pendley’s involvement in pending litigation, including asking him to recuse himself from a case involving oil and gas leases in Badger-Two Medicine in Montana. Further, actions taken by Pendley may lead to legal challenges given that his appointment as BLM acting director could run afoul of the Constitution’s advice and consent requirement and be in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
Koch and Exxon funding to Mountain States Legal Foundation:
The Charles Koch Foundation gave $25,000 to Pendley’s former employer, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, in 2015, and pledged another $25,000 in 2016.
Sources = CKF 990s on KochDocs.org
ExxonMobil has financed MSLF in recent years including $5,000 in 2018
MSLF filings and reports:
- William Perry Pendley documents page:
- Mountain States Legal Foundation documents page
- Copy of “It takes a Hero,” published under Free Enterprise Press.
- Pendley speaks at Northwest Natural Resources Institute meeting about public lands access:
- Pendley leading a workshop at a wise use conference, 1992
- Ron Arnold cites WPP and MSLF as essential for pushing the Wise Use limited government agenda.
- Advertisement for WPP’s “It takes a hero” book
- Pendley on the Property Rights Task Force for the Farm Credit Property Rights Foundation
- Pendley on Farm Credit Property Rights Fdn. with Myron Ebell
- Pendley is interviewed in this 2000 Heartland magazine (p 37)
- Pendley’s link to LaRouche
- Pendley spoke at a Western States Coalition summit 1995
- Pendley spoke at International Wise Use leadership conference
- Pendley spoke at Montana Resource Providers Annual Meeting
Diemer True has also been a major donor to MSLF. True is an heir to an oil fortune, closely tied to the major lobbying arms of the fracking industry. True was a Director of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, for example.
True served on the board of MSLF until 2004.
Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today
“Heritage Lecture” by Pendley, criticizes Bush.