By Timothy Cama, Environment & Energy Greenwire Report
Environmentalists are “extremists” or “radicals.” Bureaucrats often lie or cheat to accomplish their goals. The government is carrying out a “war” on the western United States. Native American religions are “pantheism.”
Those are some of the judgments acting Bureau of Land Management chief William Perry Pendley made in a series of five nonfiction books between 1994 and 2015.
Those books have come under close scrutiny as Pendley awaits a potential nomination from President Trump to officially lead BLM, which controls 245 million acres of land and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate out West.
At the time he drafted the books, Pendley was president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit law firm that takes up pro bono cases to pursue policy changes like banning affirmative action or easing the Endangered Species Act (Greenwire, July 15, 2019).
Much of Pendley’s writing grew from Mountain States cases and clients, though he rarely explicitly disclosed the connections. Other writings are commentaries on issues important to the West.
Pendley, a Wyoming native and Colorado resident, frequently wrote about President Reagan, under whom he worked in the Interior Department from 1981 to 1984 (Energywire, Sept. 4, 2019). He dedicated an entire book to the former Republican president.
Pendley, though, has tried to put his past commentary behind him, saying he’s only carrying out the policies of his superiors. At an August event, Pendley said his personal opinions are “irrelevant” and refused to comment on his climate change skepticism.
“I have a new client; my client’s the American people,” Pendley told the House Natural Resources Committee in September (Greenwire, Sept. 10, 2019).
Here are some highlights from Pendley’s five books:
“It Takes a Hero: The Grassroots Battle Against Environmental Oppression,” Free Enterprise Press, 1994.
Pendley’s first foray into book writing presents 53 short stories about “heroes” and their fights against the government, environmentalists, liberal activists or others.
His “heroes” include Bruce Vincent, a Montana logger who organized regional opposition to federal officials who wanted to restrict logging to help wildlife, and Marilyn Parkes of East Liverpool, Ohio, who battled opponents of a proposed waste incinerator in her town.
Wayne Hage, another “hero,” earned national fame by repeatedly grazing his cattle on federal land without paying fees or getting permits, arguing that the federal government didn’t have the authority to demand those.
“We are the true environmentalists,” reads a “Credo” that kicks off the book. “We’re the farmers and ranchers, the hunters and trappers, the fishermen and watermen — people who’ve cared for the land and the waters for generations. We’re the men and women who have clothed and fed the nation and the world. We’re the miners and the loggers and the energy producers who have provided this nation with the building blocks of a modern civilization.
“Today the tyranny that our Founding Fathers feared threatens the American Dream and the Constitutional liberties that assure the future of that dream.”
“War on the West: Government Tyranny on America’s Great Frontier,” Regnery Publishing, 1995.
In “War on the West,” Pendley describes a vast campaign that the government and environmentalists have waged against the West and what it holds dear. The culprits carry out the war using environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Westerners are fed up with and frightened of a government that gives snakes, bait fish, and salamanders a higher priority than it gives human beings and constitutional guarantees,” Pendley writes. “Under the guise of protecting species that might be endangered, the federal government has crossed a boundary erected, not by Congress, but by the U.S. Constitution.”
“War on the West” is also a tribute to the West, which Pendley romanticizes as “the nation’s most enduring symbol. … Unlike most of America, life in the West continues much as it did more than one hundred years ago.”
One major target of Pendley’s scorn is President Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who at the time of the writing had recently started carrying out an agenda that Pendley saw as an attack on water rights, mining and grazing.
Pendley also defends the grazing fees that Democrats and environmentalists frequently criticize as rock-bottom prices that effectively subsidize the industry.
“Like most issues embraced by environmental extremists, the fight is neither about money nor the buzzwords of environmental policy — safety, survivability, and sustainability. The fight is over who will control millions of acres of Western land,” he argues.
Raising grazing fees, he says, would put ranchers out of business and make them abandon their lands.
In a chapter about mining, Pendley argues that proposals to change hardrock mining laws — such as to charge royalties for extracting the minerals from federal land — are meant to shut the industry down.
“As royalties rise, more ore becomes uneconomic and must be left in the ground,” he says. “Make the royalty high enough and some mines will never open.”
“Warriors for the West: Fighting Bureaucrats, Radical Groups, and Liberal Judges on America’s Frontier,” Regnery Publishing, 2006.
Written 11 years later, “Warriors for the West” reads like a sequel to “War on the West.” This time, however, the West is fighting back.
Each chapter is dedicated to a fight that Westerners — sometimes, but not always, with Pendley’s help through Mountain States — took on, whether successful or not. They include fights against NEPA, which Pendley says courts use “to prevent the most remote and speculative of harm to the ‘environment’ even if, in the process, the ‘social’ and ‘economic’ needs” of local communities suffer.
Pendley also targets national monuments Clinton created under the Antiquities Act, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 1996. The action, Pendley argues, was meant to appease national environmental groups going into the 1996 election, “circumvent” Congress’s authority over wilderness areas and potentially get campaign donations from a billionaire who saw the area’s coal deposits as competition to his mining interests in Indonesia.
Pendley lost the court fight, but Trump later shrank the monument by nearly half.
“The battle is not for the faint of heart, those lacking in commitment to principle, or those in a hurry,” Pendley writes. “Occasionally, it has its rewards. Too often it results in heartbreak. But, for those who love liberty and find truth and inspiration in the vision of the Founding Fathers, it is the only way.”
“Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today,” Regnery Publishing, 2013.
In “Sagebrush Rebel,” Pendley takes a journey to the 1980s to celebrate conservative hero Reagan.
When campaigning for president, Reagan explicitly allied himself with the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that opposed the federal government’s management of Western land. At times, the movement was linked to violence and threats.
Reagan, though, was credited with stopping the rebellion, along with Interior Secretary James Watt, a friend of Pendley’s and fellow Wyoming native who brought Pendley to Interior to be deputy assistant secretary for energy and minerals. Pendley left in 1984, after Watt resigned following a racist remark.
“President Reagan’s aggressive energy policies, for example, have never been equaled,” Pendley writes. “Of greater importance today than the specific policies he pursued, however, is his belief in American exceptionalism and in the ability of the American people — if unfettered by burdensome regulations and given reasonable access to the nation’s rich natural resources — to improve their lot.”
In keeping with Pendley’s other writings, the book also takes significant swipes at environmentalists.
“Reagan foresaw that the Soviet Union would collapse of its own weight, and he no doubt thought that the radical environmental movement — ‘environmental extremists,’ as he called them — would share that fate. Unfortunately, that has not happened — yet.”
But Pendley is optimistic: “The discrediting of the climate-change scare, the failure — after the waste of billions of dollars — of alternative energy sources to compete with hydrocarbons, and the apparent indifference and even hostility of environmental groups to the economic needs of their fellow citizens have been serious blows to the environmentalists’ prestige.”
“Summary Judgment: 25 Years of Condemning Treachery, Tyranny, and Injustice,” Mountain States Legal Foundation, 2015.
Pendley’s most recent tome is a compilation of monthly syndicated columns he wrote between 1990 and 2014.
“Summary Judgment” features many people who starred in previous writings, like Timothy Kornwolf, who sold an eagle feather headdress and Sioux dance shield in apparent violation of federal law.
The book frequently focuses on cases involving Mountain States, although he rarely mentions the connection. They include the Grand Staircase lawsuit and Endangered Species Act cases on grizzly bears, gray wolves and lynx.
“Too much of the nation’s environmental legislation and regulation has been put on the books, not because it is costless or even wise, but because it is ‘cheap;’ that is, the cost is imposed on someone else,” he wrote in March 1992. “Off-budget environmental policy is not only unfair, inequitable, and an incalculable drain on the economy, it is contrary to the Constitution.”
When not writing about litigation — his own or other high-profile cases, like the District of Columbia v. Heller gun-rights case — Pendley turns to other areas, like pop culture.
“The political correctness of Hollywood-style environmentalism found fertile ground in The Simpsons,” Pendley noted in December 1991. “The popular cartoon series not only conducted an assault on timber harvesting in America — depicting the bribery of a Congressman who shouts ‘Timber!’ — but ridiculed religious faith by scripting this ‘prayer’ for Bart Simpson: ‘Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.'”
Originally published in Environment & Energy, republished in The Meteor by permission.