Lawsuit Threat on Illegal Interior Appointments

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For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Contact: Peter Jenkins, PEER (202) 265-4189,
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project (307) 399-7910,
Kirsten Stade, PEER

Redelegations for Park Service and BLM Violate Federal Vacancies Reform Act

Washington, DC — For much of the Trump tenure, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has been illegally keeping temporary appointees in place atop the National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), according to a Notice of Intent to Sue filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Western Watershed Project (WWP).  The groups charge Bernhardt with repeatedly authorizing lower-level Deputy Directors to act in the role of Directors in violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Notice targets the designation of David Vela of the NPS and William Pendley of the BLM to “exercise the authority of the Director” of those agencies.  The current Bernhard grant of authority to Vela and Pendley ends on May 5th.  The Notice states that if Bernhardt re-appoints them, then PEER and WWP will promptly sue to invalidate the appointments.

In a similar suit filed against Ken Cuccinelli challenging his designation as the “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” his designation was recently ruled illegal by a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington, D.C.

“Secretary Bernhardt has brazenly evaded the law in these repeated reappointments,” said Peter Jenkins, senior counsel of PEER, noting that Bernhardt’s delegations rely upon the “presidential transition” as his justification even though the transition ended in early 2017. “President Trump has nominated no one for those Director positions for the Senate to consider, intentionally leaving them vacant and marginalized.”

“Our public lands and resources are too valuable to be managed by low-level deputies who evaded Senate confirmation and do not qualify to be ‘acting’ Directors under the law,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of the Western Watersheds Project. ”Yet Mr. Pendley and Mr. Vela are both making major decisions directing these agencies right now. Pendley in particular has a track record of acting against the strong public interest in healthy public lands and wildlife habitats. We’re putting the Trump Administration on notice that our lawsuit would challenge their legitimacy on behalf of the American public’s right to have proper leaders in charge.”

Mr. Pendley’s tenure at BLM, which began on July 29, 2019, has been marked by high controversy over his policies, his numerous conflicts of interest, and his forced move of the bureau’s Headquarters to remote Grand Junction, Colorado. This has led to numerous calls for his resignation or removal.  Mr. Vela’s NPS tenure, which began on Sept. 30, 2019, has been less controversial than Pendley’s until the recent months of the coronavirus outbreak, when chaotic and inconsistent decisionmaking on Park unit closures has met high criticism from affected interests, including unhappy Park gateway communities for which Vela’s inactions led to increased infection risks.

Bernhardt has issued 17 redelegation orders to keep temporary Interior appointees in place atop their agencies. The latest delegation order expires next week, on May 5th.

PEER and WWP’s Notice of Intent to Sue  

Secretary Bernhardt redelegation order that expires on May 5th

More on William Pendley’s controversial actions at BLM 

View recent chaos around coronavirus closures of National Parks under David Vela 

More on WWP’s actions

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