BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A month after ousting the Trump administration’s public lands boss for being in the post unlawfully, a Montana judge on Friday blocked three land-use plans that would have opened most U.S.-owned lands in the state to energy development.
The actions struck down by Judge Brian Morris were implemented while William Perry Pendley was serving as acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
In a 10-page decision, Morris found that two Montana Resource Management Plans, one for Lewistown and one for Missoula, as well as an amendment to a plan for Miles City, were approved by Pendley improperly.
Morris denied a request by conservation groups seeking to file more briefs that would examine other actions taken by Pendley. The judge said he didn't have the jurisdiction and any further reviews should be made with separate lawsuits.
Morris removed Pendley from his post as acting director, where he had been for more than a year without a confirmation vote from the U.S. Senate to lead the agency as required under the Constitution.
Gov. Steve Bullock last week asked the judge to block the plans approved by Pendley. Bullock said in September that all actions undertaken during Pendley’s 424 days atop the agency were subject to legal challenge.
“This ruling affirms that there are consequences for the continued evasion of constitutional obligations to seek the Senate’s advice and consent. Our public lands deserve better," Bullock said in a statement Friday.
Trump administration officials rejected the claim that Pendley had illegally led the bureau and have said they would ask the court to leave in place any decisions made under his watch.
The BLM oversees almost a quarter-billion acres of land, primarily in the U.S. West.