Trump’s Second-Term Blueprint Would Take A Wrecking Ball To Public Lands

When it was time to outline their vision for managing America’s federal lands under a future Republican presidency, pro-Donald Trump conservatives turned to a man who has spent his career advocating for those very lands to be pawned off to states and private interests.

William Perry Pendley, who served illegally as Trump’s acting director of the Bureau of Land Management for more than a year, authored the Interior Department chapter of Project 2025, a sweeping policy blueprint that the Heritage Foundation and dozens of other right-wing organizations compiled to guide Trump and his team should he win in November.

The 920-page, pro-Trump manifesto, titled “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise,” aims to dismantle the federal government, ridding it of tens of thousands of public servants and replacing them with “an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One” of a Republican administration.

Pendley’s dream for the more than 500 million acres of federal land that the Interior Department manages is to effectively turn them into a playground for extractive industries — the same interests he’s spent most of his career representing in court.

In fact, when it came to the chapter’s section on energy production across the federal estate, Pendley simply let Kathleen Sgamma ― the president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas trade association ― and two industry allies write it for him.

Poll after poll confirms that public support for protecting America’s public lands is broad and bipartisan. Still, the most recent Republican Party platform, adopted in 2016, calls for transferring control of federal lands to the states. In recent years, Republicans have largely abandoned brazen public calls for the outright sale and transfer of federal lands, instead focusing on gutting environmental protections and finding savvier ways to give states more of a say in how public lands are managed.

That shift is reflected in Project 2025. Rather than calling for pawning off federal lands, as he has done throughout his career, Pendley writes that “states are better resource managers than the federal government,” and argues that a new administration should “draw on the enormous expertise of state agency personnel” and “look for opportunities to broaden state-federal and tribal-federal cooperative agreements.”

“It says a lot about the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, that they chose someone as far outside of the mainstream as William Perry Pendley to lead the recommendations for our public lands,” said Dan Hartinger, senior director of policy advocacy at the Wilderness Society Action Fund. “And it says a lot about Mr. Pendley’s view of public lands that the first thing he did was hand the pen to the oil and gas industry to write those recommendations.”

William Perry Pendley, the Trump-era acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, speaks during an event in Idaho in 2020.
William Perry Pendley, the Trump-era acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, speaks during an event in Idaho in 2020.

Keith Ridler via Associated Press

In his 22-page contribution to the project, Pendley writes of an Interior Department that he says has lost its way and grown beholden to “radical” environmentalists, and that is now “abusing” U.S. laws to “advance a radical climate agenda.”

He condemns what he describes as the Biden administration’s “war” on fossil fuels, ignoring the fact that U.S. production of crude oil and exports of natural gas have continued to soar during Biden’s tenure. And he calls for the restoration of so-called Trump-era “energy dominance” — a catchphrase that is rooted in myth — and the annihilation of numerous environmental safeguards.

“No other initiative is as important for the DOI under a conservative President than the restoration of the department’s historic role managing the nation’s vast storehouse of hydrocarbons,” Pendley writes.

Pendley’s blueprint for Trump, if he should win in November, includes holding robust oil and gas lease sales on- and offshore, boosting drilling across northern Alaska, slashing the royalties that fossil fuel companies pay to drill on federal lands, expediting oil and gas permitting, and rescinding Biden-era rules aimed at protecting endangered species and limiting methane pollution from oil and gas operations.

“Biden’s DOI is hoarding supplies of energy and keeping them from Americans whose lives could be improved with cheaper and more abundant energy while making the economy stronger and providing job opportunities for Americans,” reads a section titled ”Restoring American Energy Dominance.” “DOI is a bad manager of the public trust and has operated lawlessly in defiance of congressional statute and federal court orders.”

If that reads like a fossil fuel industry wish list, it’s because it is. Rather than personally calling for the keys to America’s public lands to be turned over to America’s fossil fuel sector, Pendley let the head of a powerful industry group do it for him. An author’s note at the end of his policy directive discloses that the entire energy section was authored by Sgamma, as well as Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy at the American Energy Alliance, and Katie Tubb, a former senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Sgamma’s trade and lobbying organization, Western Energy Alliance, represents 200 oil and gas companies. The American Energy Alliance and the Heritage Foundation both have deep ties to the fossil fuel industry.

“I guess it’s refreshing that they are being so transparent that the oil and gas industry is literally writing the transition playbook for them,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Colorado-based conservation group Center for Western Priorities. “Saying the quiet part out loud — thank you for that.”

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry trade and lobbying group, is a fierce critic of President Joe Biden's energy and environmental policies.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry trade and lobbying group, is a fierce critic of President Joe Biden’s energy and environmental policies.

Mariam Zuhaib via Associated Press

In his author’s note, Pendley also writes that he “received thoughtful, knowledgeable, and swift assistance” from several other Trump-era Interior officials. Those include Aurelia Giacometto, the Trump-era director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and a former Monsanto executive; Casey Hammond, who served as Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals; and Tara Sweeney, the former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs who now works for oil giant ConocoPhillips.

Other contributors to Project 2025 include Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory (R), a leader of the pro-land transfer movement, and Margaret Byfield, executive director of American Stewards of Liberty, a fringe, right-wing organization that championed a disinformation campaign against Biden’s conservation goals. The American Legislative Exchange Council and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, two corporate-backed think tanks that advocate handing over control of federal lands to states, are members of the Project 2025 advisory board.

“Beyond posing an existential threat to democracy, Project 2025 puts special interests over everyday Americans,” said Tony Carrk, executive director of Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group that shared its research on Project 2025 with HuffPost. “The dangerous initiative has handed off its policy proposals to the same industry players who have dumped millions into the project — and who will massively benefit from its industry-friendly policies.”

Accountable found that the Koch network, led by billionaire oil tycoon Charles Koch, funneled over $4.4 million to organizations on Project 2025’s advisory board in 2022.

The Heritage Foundation and Pendley did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Pendley’s contribution to Project 2025 is his latest act in a five-decade crusade against the federal government and environmental protections. His first stint at the Interior Department was under James Watt, President Ronald Reagan’s Interior chief, who is widely considered one of the most anti-environment Cabinet appointees in U.S. history. The Washington Post once described Pendley as “Watt’s ideological twin.”

Pendley calls himself a “sagebrush rebel,” a reference to the Sagebrush Rebellion movement of the 1970s and ’80s that sought to remove lands from federal control. For decades, he led the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a right-wing nonprofit that has pushed for the government to sell off millions of federal acres. In a 2016 op-ed published by National Review, Pendley wrote that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”

Pendley has compared environmentalists to communists and Nazis, immigrants to “cancer,” and the climate crisis to a “unicorn.” He has said the Endangered Species Act has been used as a tool to “drive people off the land” and into cities where they can be “controlled,” and seemingly voiced support for killing imperiled species discovered on private land. Some of his most extreme anti-environmental screeds were published in 21st Century Science & Technology, a fringe magazine of the late cult leader, convicted fraudster and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, as HuffPost previously reported.

Asked about some of his radical views during a conference in 2019, Pendley said that his “personal opinions are irrelevant” to the job of overseeing 245 million acres of public land as the head of the BLM.

But those views are no doubt the reason he was tapped to write the Interior playbook for a future Republican president, particularly one that falsely casts Biden as the enemy of the fossil fuel industry.

“At the end of the day, they know that the land disposal position is deeply unpopular and a nonstarter across any Western state, no matter how conservative,” Weiss said. “That just leaves them with this false narrative about Biden’s war on oil and gas. That’s also a lie, of course, but it’s one they have to keep telling because otherwise there is no way to justify what is in this Project 2025 agenda.”

President Donald Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, on Dec. 4, 2017, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City. President Joe Biden has since restored the boundaries of the monuments.
President Donald Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, on Dec. 4, 2017, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City. President Joe Biden has since restored the boundaries of the monuments.

Rick Bowmer via Associated Press

Along with a series of actions to boost drilling and mining across the federal estate, Pendley calls for a future Republican administration to not only dismantle existing protected landscapes but limit presidents’ ability to protect others in the future. He advocates for vacating Biden’s executive order establishing a goal of conserving 30% of federal lands and waters by 2030; rescinding the Biden administration’s drilling and mining moratoriums in Colorado, New Mexico and Minnesota; reviewing all Biden-era resource management plans, which cover millions of acres of federal lands; and repealing the Antiquities Act, the landmark 1906 law that 18 presidents have used to designate 161 national monuments.

Donald Trump is an unapologetic climate denier who called climate change a ‘hoax’ and slashed environmental protections while he was in office,” Biden campaign senior spokesperson Sarafina Chitika told HuffPost in a statement. “Now, Trump and his extreme allies are campaigning to go even further if he wins a second term by gutting the Inflation Reduction Act and clean energy programs, shredding regulations for greenhouse gas pollution, and serving the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our families and our future.”

The Trump administration positioned itself as an opponent of selling or transferring federal lands, but on several occasions, it proposed public land sell-offs, hosted anti-federal land zealots and installed fierce critics of federal land management in powerful government positions. It also weakened protections for millions of acres of federal land and famously shrank the size of two sweeping national monuments in Utah — the largest rollback of national monuments in U.S. history.

Pendley argues Trump didn’t go far enough with his attack on national monuments, and that protected sites in Maine and Oregon should have also been on the chopping block.

“The new Administration’s review will permit a fresh look at past monument decrees and new ones by President Biden,” he writes in Project 2025.

Weiss views Pendley’s antipathy for the Antiquities Act as an acknowledgement of how successful the law has been in protecting public lands. And he says it speaks volumes that Project 2025 organizers tapped Pendley for the job of crafting the Interior blueprint.

“They could have found any number of mainstream conservatives to write their agenda for them. They didn’t,” Weiss said. “They picked the notorious anti-public lands extremist, because that is at the end of the day what they want. They don’t want someone who is going to come in and follow the last 50 years of legal precedent.”

Comments are closed.