A federal judge ruled Friday that President Donald Trump’s leading steward of public lands has been serving unlawfully, blocking him from continuing in the position in the latest pushback against the administration’s practice of filling key positions without U.S. Senate approval.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris determined U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley served unlawfully for 424 days without being confirmed to the post by the Senate as required under the Constitution.
The ruling came after Montana’s Democratic governor Steve Bullock in July sued to remove Pendley, saying the former oil industry attorney was illegally overseeing an agency that manages almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West, including nearly 12 million acres in Idaho.
The ruling will be immediately appealed, according to Interior Department spokesman Conner Swanson.
The agency will abide by the judge’s order while the appeal is pending, officials said. It will also have to confront questions over the legitimacy of all decisions Pendley had made, including his approval of land use plans in Montana that Morris said Pendley was not authorized to make.
The land bureau regulates activities ranging from mining and oil extraction to livestock grazing and recreation. Under the president, it has been at the forefront in the administration’s drive to loosen environmental restrictions for oil and gas drilling and other development on public lands. (AP)