After outrage from communities and leaders across the country, the Trump administration finally withdrew their nomination of William Perry Pendley to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While this is a win for our communities and public lands, the fight is not over yet. Pendley is still serving – likely illegally – as acting director, and his power poses a direct threat to the Grand Canyon and surrounding communities. The recent release of a report from a Trump administration task force that recommends a handout to the uranium industry left many people fearful for the future of our nation’s crown jewel. With Pendley, who formerly sued the federal government on behalf of a mining company attempting to mine near the Grand Canyon, still serving, the future of this National Park looks even bleaker.
Pendley is an ardent advocate for the disposal and sell-off of public lands. By allowing him to continue leading the BLM, the Trump administration has made it clear that even during a pandemic they will continue to prioritize boosting industry profits over protecting our communities’ health and iconic landmarks like the Grand Canyon from harmful uranium mining.
Millions of people located near the Grand Canyon have already been forced to grapple with the toxic legacy of uranium mining and its problematic history of long-lasting health and environmental impacts. Decades of mining have left the area tainted with contaminated water, leaving many residents – particularly people in the Navajo Nation – with uranium in their bodies. Too often when the government sides with corporate polluters, it is our Hispanic and Native communities that bear the disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental injustice.
The area around the Grand Canyon is sacred to surrounding tribes, and the Native people who drank contaminated water from previous mining are still experiencing major health complications and lasting effects. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Pendley will heed these concerns, for he has a history of mocking tribal traditions in relation to land management concerns and has repeatedly expressed outward disdain for communities of color. If we want to keep this bigoted, anti-public lands extremist away from our nation’s iconic landscapes, we need senators to demand that Pendley be fired.
Growing up in Arizona, I spent many weekends with my family hiking and camping around the Grand Canyon, providing us a respite from our urban neighborhood. I have seen firsthand the value public lands and national parks bring to a young person. And as a veteran, my connection to our public lands has only grown deeper. I believe it is a patriotic duty to protect America’s outdoors, especially now when families are turning to our parks for solace. I want to ensure that this appreciation of our natural resources extends into future generations, but for that to happen we need responsible leadership. The Trump administration withdrew their nomination because it was impossible to ignore that Pendley’s bigotry and extreme record on public lands make him unfit to lead the BLM. Now, the administration must end this charade and remove Pendley entirely, once and for all.
Access to clean drinking water, protection from uranium exposure, and the freedom to explore safe and protected public lands must be our elected officials’ top priority. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who opposed Pendley’s nomination and has demanded he be removed, is working with local stakeholders and tribal nations to permanently ban mining and put Arizonans first. Unfortunately, our other senator – Martha McSally – has not committed to supporting this important effort nor has she called for the removal of William Perry Pendley. Senator McSally, will you step up to prioritize Arizonans’ interests, or will you let the administration destroy our treasured landscape?
Our leaders at the federal level should be focused on protecting public health, plain and simple. Arizonans cannot afford to go through another battle with uranium mining, and we deserve a BLM director who will protect our public lands and put our well-being above that of fossil fuel CEOs. By withdrawing Pendley’s nomination, the Trump administration proved that his extremist, anti-public lands agenda was unconfirmable. He should not now be allowed to serve, presumably illegally, anymore. Pendley must go.
Mark Cardenas is an advisory board member for HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors), a former Arizona state representative and an Iraq War Army veteran.