By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) – A federal court ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had an illegitimate director for more than a year has called into question a great deal of the agency’s recently completed efforts to boost the oil and gas development on federal lands, according to lawyers and environmental groups.
The development is the latest in a series of legal headaches for the administration of President Donald Trump, which seeks to reverse regulation of the industry.
William Perry Pendley, BLM’s deputy director of programs and policies, illegally served as the agency’s director for more than 400 days because he was not confirmed by the Senate as required by law, according to last week’s ruling by the U.S. district judge. Brian Morris in Montana.
The BLM is an agency of the Department of the Interior and oversees nearly 250 million acres of public lands.
Morris said “any ‘role or duty’ of the BLM Director that has been performed by Pendley would have no force or effect and should be set aside. He gave attorneys 10 days to list which Pendley decisions should be affected.
Pendley helped finalize numerous “Resource Management Plans” that guide how large tracts of federal land are used and developed, including those in two Utah national monuments that Trump reduced shortly after taking office: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. .
He also helped finalize a refrigerant management plan covering a ConocoPhillips (NYSE 🙂 oil and gas project in Wyoming and a plan that ended a moratorium on oil and gas leases in California.
Pendley’s nomination as director of BLM was withdrawn by Trump earlier this month. Pendley still serves as the office’s deputy director of policy and programs, despite the judge’s ruling banning him from serving as the agency’s head.
ConocoPhillips spokesman John Roper said the company will not “speculate on what actions the courts or regulators may or may not take.”
Calling the ruling “a tsunami,” National Audubon Society attorney Nada Culver said “the court’s reasoning makes it quite clear that many of the activities that Pendley has been involved in have now been invalidated.”
Interior Department Attorney Dan Jorjani called Morris’s ruling “wrong” and said the department would appeal.
The question of the legitimacy of BLM’s actions under Pendley could be extended further, depending on how other courts interpret Morris’s order, attorneys said.
The public lands watchdog group Western Values Project put together a list of actions that could be in jeopardy, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling program and reviews of grouse protections.
“It’s going to be fascinating to see the extent to which this order has the potential to undermine all, some or many of those decisions,” said Melissa Hornbein, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center.
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