The 'other BLM' needs scrutiny

President Donald Trump last week announced his intent to nominate William Perry Pendley to head the Bureau of Land Management.

John D. Sutter is a CNN contributor and a National Geographic Explorer. He is director of the forthcoming BASELINE series, which is visiting four locations on the front lines of the climate crisis every five years until 2050. Visit the project's website or follow him on Instagram. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

(CNN)I was driving around Utah the other day when I saw the letters "BLM" spray-painted on a boulder at the edge of the Salt Lake Valley. The letters stand for "Black Lives Matter," of course. (Even in a city that's 2% Black, there thankfully have been massive demonstrations against anti-Black violence and racism). But out West that acronym easily could be mistaken for the name of an entity that's been described by both Fox News and Teen Vogue (synergy!) as the most powerful federal agency you've never heard of -- the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

John D. Sutter
The other BLM is in the news because President Donald Trump last week announced his intent to nominate William Perry Pendley to head the agency. Pendley is another name you probably don't know, and maybe that's just as well given his history of retrograde policy positions and racist remarks. It's important to learn his name, however, and understand his agency, given the amount of sway the somewhat-invisible BLM has over issues such as conservation, climate change and fossil fuel extraction -- especially in western states like Utah, where he and the "other BLM" are relatively well known. And Trump is asking him to lead an agency that manages about 244 million surface acres of public land -- or about one in every 10 acres in the United States.
Pendley's track record of climate denial and anti-public-lands policy is antithetical to that task. Throw in tasteless comments about Black Lives Matter and Pendley becomes completely unconfirmable. It's clear he is out of touch with realities of the year 2020.
    Taken on its own, Pendley's anti-science record is appalling.
    A 2019 CNN investigation uncovered Pendley doubting the existence of the ozone hole and climate change. Climate change, for the record, is caused by burning fossil fuels. There's consensus agreement on that point -- and has been for decades. (A NASA scientist testified in front of the US Senate in 1988 saying the era of global warming had begun.)
    Among the more startling nuggets CNN found:
    • In a 1992 speech at the Heritage Foundation: "Despite the total absence of credible scientific evidence, the media is convinced and is attempting to convince us that we have global warming, an Ozone hole and acid rain and that it is all man's fault."
    • In a 2001 column: "People don't have to shovel too much global warming off their sidewalk before they begin to doubt the sky-is-falling radicals who demand they we all but destroy our civilization in order to 'save the planet.'"
    • In a 2007 news release he referred to undocumented immigrants as "a cancer" and faulting undocumented immigrants for "violent crime" and "crowded schools."
    • In a 2015 speech: "It's all about government control. I knew when the wall came down between the United States and the red Soviet Union, the red curtain came to the, uh, the iron curtain came down that the, that the left, the people who believe in statism and government control would have to find another issue. And they found it in global warming."
    Such attitudes are more noxious than they are surprising.
    Yet they are relevant, despite the BLM's emailed statement saying that "cherrypicking" statements "out of context" is "neither useful nor connected" to Pendley's position at the BLM.
    For a public figure to cast doubt on climate science over the years is both dangerous and negligent. Global warming remains one of the greatest threats facing humanity.
    Further, Pendley falls in a line of Trump agency picks who seem to want to dismantle the agencies they're tasked with overseeing. A logical parallel is Scott Pruitt, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who made a name for himself as Oklahoma attorney general by suing the agency, the EPA, he'd later be asked to lead (and that he'd resign from amid scandal in 2018).
    As then-head of Mountain States Legal Foundation, Pendley intervened in public-land disputes concerning Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both of which Trump shrank by proclamation. If Pendley's ethic isn't quite sell-off-the-federal-lands, it seems to be something close to transfer-them-to-the-states. Both stances diminish the public good in favor of corporate interests and short-term economic gains.
    Again, the "other BLM" is tasked with managing a massive swath of territory. Some land is leased to fossil fuel companies and mining operations. On the left, there's a push to slow if not eliminate fossil-fuel leasing because of the climate crisis, which already is making droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, sea level rise and the extinction crisis worse. If the federal government doesn't manage that land, that tool to fight global warming is blunted. And states can reasonably be expected to push for extraction.
    This is massively consequential. On average, nearly a quarter of US carbon emissions from fossil fuels are linked to their development on public lands, according to a US Geological Survey report that looked at the years 2005 to 2014. This is one important way the feds contribute to climate change.
    "One of the first and best ways to respond is to end new fossil-fuel leasing on public lands," the Center for Biological Diversity told E&E News in 2018 in response to that report. "Ending public lands leasing programs must be a pillar of any serious climate plan moving forward."
    They should be. But it's likely no surprise to those paying attention that a Trump nominee would continue spinning this nation into retrograde. This is an obvious pattern.
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    The only silver lining is that -- finally -- Trump plans to submit Pendley's name for confirmation by the US Senate. Although a BLM spokesman denied it