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BLM head: ‘What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant.’

Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley won’t answer questions about his history of climate denial or denigrating immigrants at environmental journalism conference.

 

Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley speaks at the Society of Environmental Journalists 2019 conference. To his left is Dina Gilio-Whitaker a lecturer in American Indian studies at California State University San Marcos.

This article was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

William Perry Pendley, the controversial acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, told a room full of journalists on Friday that his opinions on climate change and immigrants are “irrelevant” to his job overseeing 245 million acres of public land.

Speaking on a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference, Pendley, a conservative lawyer who has spent his career fighting federal land protections and environmental regulation, sparred repeatedly with reporters. 

He refused to comment about his past statements that cast doubt over basic climate science and compared immigrants to a “cancer.” He also repeatedly responded to questions by saying, “I disagree with your premise.” 

As recently as February, Pendley compared the climate crisis to a “unicorn” because “neither exists.”

Asked to clarify his position on Friday, he deferred to his boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist who has said he hasn’t lost sleep over soaring atmospheric carbon dioxide and blamed Congress for his own inaction on climate. Bernhardt had been scheduled to appear at the conference but canceled.

“I’m not a scientist, I’m a lawyer,” Pendley said. “I defer to the secretary. He’s been very clear on this subject. He believes that climate change is real, that mankind has an impact, that we’re unable to project future climate conditions, but that we need to understand the consequences.”

Asked again about his own views, Pendley balked: “Nope, I’m not going to clarify. Those are my personal opinions,” he said. “I’m a Marine. I follow orders.”

Pendley added that he has not been briefed on climate impacts to America’s public lands in the three months he’s been acting head of the BLM.

Pendley added that he has not been briefed on climate impacts to America’s public lands in the three months he’s been acting head of the BLM.

In 2007, Pendley referred to undocumented immigrants as “spreading like a cancer” in a fundraising mailer for his legal fund resurfaced by CNN this week. When pressed on Friday about the statement, Pendley brushed off the question entirely. 

“My personal opinions are irrelevant,” he said. “I have a new job now. I’m a zealous advocate for my client. My client is the American people and my bosses are the president of the United States and Secretary Bernhardt. What I thought, what I wrote, what I did in the past is irrelevant. I have orders, I have laws to obey, and I intend to do that.”

Pendley didn’t hesitate, though, to slam Democratic presidential candidates who have pledged to stop new fossil fuel leasing on public lands for fossil fuel development if elected.

Chris D'Angelo is a reporter for HuffPost, based in Washington, D.C. Alexander Kaufman is reporter at HuffPost, based in New York. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.