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Senior Interior official denied there was an ozone hole and compared undocumented immigrants to cancer

Posted October 8, 2019 4:01 p.m. EDT

— The acting director of the federal agency responsible for managing one in every 10 acres of land in the United States has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change and falsely claimed in a 1990s speech there was no credible evidence of a hole in the ozone layer.

William Perry Pendley was appointed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as the acting director of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management in July 2019. Prior to his appointment, Pendley was a conservative activist, commentator, lawyer and served as the longtime president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation.

"Despite the total absence of credible scientific evidence, the media is convinced and is attempting to convince us that we have global warming, an Ozone hole and acid rain and that it is all man's fault," Pendley said in a 1992 speech to the Heritage Foundation.

In other comments uncovered during a CNN KFile review of his social media activity, writings and public appearances, Pendley cited an anti-Muslim figure to claim Islam was at war with the United States, compared undocumented immigrants to cancer and blamed them for diseases.

The BLM manages 244 million acres of federal lands in the United States -- one out of every 10 acres of land in the country -- along with 30% of the nation's minerals. As acting director of the BLM, Perry wields significant authority over the leasing and use of land for mining, recreation, and oil and gas exploration and development along with maintaining environmental protections for federal lands. The agency is currently taking steps to move its headquarters and employees out west.

Pendley's appointment has already drawn scrutiny from Democrats and environmental groups for his views on public lands. In recent years, he has said that "environmental extremists ... don't believe in human beings" and that "The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold."

The Trump administration has not nominated a permanent director for BLM since taking office. The Trump administration has relied on acting heads for agencies and cabinet-level positions, sometimes appointing officials with little chance of Senate confirmation.

Asked about his comments and if he still holds his views, Pendley said his views were being taken out of context and were irrelevant to his role at BLM.

"As someone in the public arena for nearly four decades, I've given countless statements and written scores of articles on a wide variety of topics. Cherrypicking a few of them out of context is neither useful nor connected to my current position. I'm focused now on implementing the policy priorities of the Trump administration and Secretary Bernhardt within the authorities and mission given this agency by Congress. My personal views are irrelevant in this context."

Denied an ozone layer hole and climate change

In a lecture to the Heritage Foundation in 1992, a copy of which is available online, Pendley compared the environmental movement to communism and denied the existence of the hole in the ozone layer -- which had been scientifically well established by then.

"'Environmentalism' is indeed the last refuge of the left, the last safe haven for those who trust, not the people, but big government, those who seek to place the power in the hands of federal bureaucrats," Pendley said. "No wonder the environmental message has became the cause of choice for the elitists of Hollywood. It should not surprise us that they have embraced environmentalism with the same self-righteous fervor as they once embraced socialism and communism."

"Despite the total absence of credible scientific evidence, the media is convinced and is attempting to convince us that we have global warming, an Ozone hole and acid rain and that it is all man's fault," he added.

Pendley has repeatedly denied the existence of climate change and mocked the scientific consensus around environmental issues as rooted in "bad science."

"People don't have to shovel too much global warming off their sidewalk before they begin to doubt the sky-is-falling radicals who demand they we all but destroy our civilization in order to 'save the planet,'" Pendley wrote in a 2001 column on his organization's website. "People are beginning to realize they have been deceived, lied to, tricked. They have."

Pendley echoed the same claim in a 2011 Mountain States Legal Foundation press release stating, "public support for the fiction of man-made climate change" was "at an all time low."

Speaking on "The Americhicks" podcast earlier this year, Pendley said environmentalists were "preaching fear" about climate change and claimed "global cooling" was a widespread concern "just a couple of years ago."

"I debated an environmentalist on television here in Denver and, and it's, he, she was quoting people about global warming and I said, you realize the people you're quoting just a couple of years ago were predicting global cooling on a massive scale that we would not be able to feed ourselves. And it stopped her for just a second," Pendley said. "And then she said, 'Well, it's going to be something.' And that's what the environmentalists say. It's going to be something, to quote another movie, from the movie The Fly, 'Be afraid, be very afraid.' And that's what they're preaching. They're preaching fear."

In a 2010 blog post, Pendley called climate change believers "kooks" and again invoked "global cooling" to repudiate climate change. There is a consensus in the scientific community that human activity is the main cause of rising temperatures and climate skeptics will often invoke claims that global temperatures are actually cooling or that scientists believed so recently.

At times, Pendley's denial of climate change has drifted into even more fringe claims linking the broader US environmental movement to the fall of the Soviet Union and communism.

"It's all about government control. I knew when the wall came down between the United States and the red Soviet Union, the red curtain came to the, uh, the iron curtain came down that the, that the left, the people who believe in statism and government control would have to find another issue. And they found it in global warming. They found it in environmental catastrophe," Pendley said in a 2015 speech.

Pendley is quoted making a similar argument in an archived copy of the 1993 "Greenpeace Guide to Anti Environmental Organizations."

"Because of the collapse of communism, because the wall has come down, because the Soviet Union is no more...the environmental movement is the last refuge of people who favor government over people," he said.

Comments on Islam

Pendley has repeatedly pushed hardline anti-Muslim views, including citing an article by anti-Muslim activist Robert Spencer in a 2018 tweet to claim Islam was at war with America.

"Who knew? Islam's war with America started just up the road in Greeley, Colorado!," Pendley tweeted. In the article, Spencer floats unfounded conspiracies about "leftists" allying with "Islamic hardliners who adhere to Sharia, a system of laws that would have many of them executed."

Writing in a 2010 blog post, Pendley railed against a Department of Homeland Security report that labeled right-wing extremism as a threat, arguing instead the focus should be on "those who embrace radical Islam."

"(New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Barack Obama) think -- if one can call it thinking or anything more than wishful thinking—that Americans should be afraid of terrorist attacks, not from all those who embrace radical Islam, but from their countrymen who hold very strong views on important issues of the day?," Pendley wrote.

Last month, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan released the department's counterterrorism strategy, calling extremism from white supremacists one of the most "potent ideologies" driving acts violence in the US.

Comments on undocumented immigrants

Pendley has repeatedly used extreme rhetoric to refer to undocumented immigrants.

In a 2007 fundraising mailer for his legal fund, Pendley referred to undocumented immigrants as "a cancer" while praising Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Valley Park, Missouri, for passing laws restricting undocumented immigrants from renting houses or being hired by local businesses.

"You see, the problems Hazleton or Valley Park faces could be in your community next because illegal immigration is spreading like a cancer," Pendley wrote. "Partly this is because Mexico and some other governments promote and encourage illegal immigration into our country."

Pendley went on to say if "massive immigration" continued "you and I will permanently lose the country we love"

Pendley used similar rhetoric in a press release by his legal fund the same year -- faulting undocumented immigrants for "violent crime" and "crowded schools" and praising the mayor of Hazleton for adopting legislation "to deal with these problems."

"Frustrated by the failure of the federal government to address the issue of illegal immigration and the problems it poses for the tiny, cash-strapped city -- including violent crime, crowded schools, hospital costs, and the demand for services—the City Council, at the request of Mayor Lou Barletta, adopted legislation to deal with these problems."

Barletta, a Republican immigration hardliner who later served in the House and lost a Senate bid, enacting tough measures targeting undocumented immigrants as mayor, including an act that allowed the city to impose fines on landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and deny permits to businesses who employed them (the ordinance was struck down in federal court).

Writing in a 2006 blog post, Pendley blamed undocumented immigrants for a number of societal ills, including disease and violence crime.

"Violent crime—including dangerous gangs, over-crowded schools, the appearance of diseases once vanquished from the western world, escalating hospital costs, and an overwhelming demand for government services!" Pendley wrote. "These are the new problems being faced by small, cash-strapped cities and towns all across America. The source: illegal immigrants."

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