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New BLM Appointee Believes Founding Fathers Wanted All Public Lands to Be Sold off

Politics
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona is among the public lands which could be threatened by the appointment of William Perry Pendley. Bureau of Land Management

By Julia Conley

Control over nearly 250 million acres of public lands was placed Monday in the hands of a former Reagan administration official who has argued that all federal lands should be sold to fossil fuel and other corporate interests in accordance with the goals of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.


Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed attorney William Perry Pendley as acting head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), sending fears throughout conservation groups that many of the country's minerals and resources will soon be handed over to oil and gas companies.

Pendley wrote in 2016 that "the Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold," and as recently as this month he lauded fossil fuel extraction as an "energy, economic, and environmental miracle."

"This appointment shows Trump and Bernhardt are only interested in selling off public lands to the highest bidder," said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, in a statement. "Pendley is an outspoken advocate for the transfer of public lands to the state. Anything they've ever said about not selling off public lands has just been a political smokescreen to distract from their real intentions: handing over public lands to their special interest allies."

Pendley's appointment comes on the heels of the Interior Department's decision to spread the BLM's Washington, DC-based headquarters across a number of western states, a move which critics say is aimed at giving the agency less control over federal decision-making about federal lands.

The news of Pendley "ascending to the top of BLM just as it is being reorganized strongly suggests the administration is positioning itself to liquidate our shared public lands," Phil Hanceford, conservation director for The Wilderness Society, told the Associated Press.

During his tenure in the Interior Department during the Reagan administration, the Western Values Project noted in a statement, Pendley frequently called for a repeal of the Antiquities Act, which preserves archeological sites, historic structures, and cultural landscapes across the country.

Under the Trump administration, Pendley has been critical of the Interior Department's shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments — because he feels the president has not been aggressive enough in offering the public lands for what he views as their sole purposes: "ranching, mile, oil and gas, or energy activities," according to a 2016 interview.

"We now have someone in charge of the BLM who would prefer to sell those places off rather than doing the job of caring for them on behalf of all Americans," said Kayje Booker, policy and advocacy director for Montana Wilderness Association, in a statement.

Upon learning of Pendley's appointment, the environmental law group Earthjustice called on the incoming BLM chief to recuse himself from any decision-making regarding one area in Montana, regarding which the group said he has a conflict of interest.

Pendley's former legal client, Solenex, lost its oil and gas lease for the Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana in 2016 when BLM canceled the agreement.

The lease for the area, near Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation reservation, was reinstated by a district judge last year and Earthjustice is currently fighting that decision in an appeals court.

Pendley has "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."

"It's hard to imagine anyone in this position more dangerous than William Perry Pendley," said Booker.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.