DENVER— Climate groups filed new legal claims today challenging the federal government’s 1.7 million-acre resource-management plan to expand fossil fuel development in southwestern Colorado, saying it should be overturned because it was approved during William Perry Pendley’s unlawful tenure directing the Bureau of Land Management.
“This amendment to our challenge of the Uncompahgre RMP reflects a reality that is now established legal precedent: Pendley’s authority as bureau director is invalid and planning decisions approved on his watch are likewise invalid,” said Melissa Hornbein, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The RMP is blatant in its disregard of the law, and our new claim merely reflects the fact that its legal failings stem from Pendley’s unlawful leadership of the bureau.”
Today’s claims follow a court order last week overturning three Pendley resource-management plans in Montana and a September ruling that Pendley’s 424-day tenure was unlawful. The legal filing also amends the groups’ August lawsuit challenging the resource plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office, which calls for more fracking and coal mining in one of the country’s fastest-warming regions.
“This is the first step in scrubbing the stain of Pendley’s corrupt, unlawful legacy from our public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pendley has built his career on industrializing and destroying public lands. He should never have been allowed to set foot in the building.”
Under Pendley the Bureau of Land Management has amended resource-management plans to enable decades of fossil fuel expansion and climate pollution on public lands across the West. Climate groups have identified unlawful Pendley decisions that include at least 16 resource-management plans and other projects that open 30 million acres of public lands to oil and gas drilling, mining and grazing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. The plans range from expanding coal mining in Montana and open-pit copper mining in Arizona to allowing fracking across more than 1 million acres in California — the first leases since 2013.
“The bureau’s proposal of a new preferred Alternative E, out of whole cloth, in contradiction of state recommendations, in defiance of over 50,000 public comments, and outright disregard for protests from the state of Colorado, county and municipal governments, and the public were all under Pendley’s watch,” said Natasha Léger, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “The Uncompahgre RMP should be invalidated just like the Montana RMPs under his tenure.”
Resource-management plans are 20-year blueprints for public lands that govern every activity across the landscape, including which lands are open to fracking and drilling and which areas are protected for their ecological and wildlife values. The Bureau of Land Management director has sole decision-making authority over administrative protests that raise concerns about these plans.
“These public lands are a treasured resource, valued locally for their wildlands, wildlife, and opportunities for sustainable recreation,” said Matt Reed, public lands director at Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “Pendley has never recognized that, and we’re thankful that his ill-conceived tenure at the bureau has come to an end.”
In his September decision saying Pendley had served unlawfully, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that any duty that Pendley performed during his 424 days as acting director of the Bureau “would have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.”
“Pendley’s dirty fingerprints are all over this plan, which will further imperil the Gunnison sage-grouse,” said Talasi Brooks, a staff attorney with Western Watersheds Project. “The public shouldn't have to live with such terrible decisions being made by an unlawfully appointed bureau director.”
“It’s critical that we undo all the damage done to public lands and the climate by the Bureau of Land Management and its sham leadership,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director. “By confronting the illegal fossil fuel industry giveaway that is the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan, we’re taking the steps needed to ensure protection of these irreplaceable lands and values.”
“For 424 days, William Perry Pendley illegally ran the Bureau of Land Management as a one-stop-shop catering to the interests of oil and gas companies,” said Athan Manuel, Sierra Club director of public lands protection. “The decisions made during his unlawful tenure have had real and devastating effects on our communities, our environment, and our wildlife. We deserve a bureau that will protect our public lands and waters, not advance the agenda of dirty fossil fuels.”