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Enviro Groups Call-Out BLM Appointee's Conflict Of Interest

Map of Solenex Lease site in the Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park
Courtesy Montana Wilderness Association
Map of Solenex Lease site in the Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park

A newly appointed Bureau of Land Management official needs to recuse himself from decisions related to the Badger-Two Medicine area because he has a conflict of interest. That's according to according to the environmental group Earthjustice.

In 2016, the BLM canceled Solenex’s oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area between Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian reservation. The lease was reinstated late last year by a district court judge.

This spring, Earthjustice and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which houses the BLM, appealed that decision to the federal appellate court in Washington D.C.

Now Earthjustice is asking the Interior to recuse newly appointed BLM Deputy Director William Perry Pendley from making any decisions related to the case. Earthjustice’s Tim Preso explained why.

“Mr. Pendley used to be the lawyer for Solenex, and now he’s running essentially the BLM, and he’s moved from one side of the case to the other, and he’s obviously in a position to influence BLM’s decision making regarding this important case and that’s totally inappropriate,” Preso said. “There’s a huge conflict of interest there.”

Pendley represented Solenex during district court proceedings and is not handling the appeal, but Preso said his past work with the company should ethically and legally force Pendley to recuse himself.

Pendley’s appointment is the latest installment in a decades-long battle over oil and gas leasing in the Badger-Two Medicine area, which the Blackfeet Nation values as a sacred site.

“This is a really critical issue for the Blackfeet Nation, who has irreplaceable cultural and spiritual values in the Badger Two-Medicine region, as well as for Montanans from all walks of life who care about that landscape adjacent to Glacier National Park and all of its amazing wildlife and wildland values,” Preso said.

Past work with Solenex is not the only objection raised to Pendley’s appointment. Conservation and sportsmen groups are calling on Montana senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester to oppose Pendley’s appointment because of his tenure as president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a private property rights group that regularly sues the federal government.

Tester issued a statement Monday afternoon calling Pendley’s appointment a “grave threat to the future of public lands in Montana and across the country.”

Neither Pendley nor the BLM could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.