WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, delivered remarks on the Senate Floor to decry President Donald Trump’s destructive record on the environment and call for the removal of William Perry Pendley from his “acting” leadership role at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
In reference to President Trump’s claim last week that he has been the “number one president on the environment since Teddy Roosevelt,” Senator Heinrich slammed the Trump White House’s systematic attacks on climate science, rollbacks of key conservation polices, and total dismantling of protections for public lands like Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
He then once again called on President Trump to remove William Perry Pendley, a lawyer and lobbyist whose whole career has been built on attacking public lands, from his current role as the “acting” director of BLM. Last month, Heinrich led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a successful effort that led to President Trump formally withdrawing the nomination of Pendley. However, Pendley remains at the BLM in an "acting" capacity.
“As long as the Republican Senate majority refuses to act on its constitutional duty to hold this administration accountable on nominations like this, Mr. Pendley and other Trump officials in “acting” roles can and will continue to operate with impunity,” said Heinrich. “That’s not right. And in this case, we are talking about someone whose whole career has been built on opposition to the very idea that public lands should remain in public hands. Mr. Pendley’s role in the Trump administration represents a direct attack on Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy for our environment.”
Senator Heinrich’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
There was once a strong man who rose up through New York City society, led American soldiers in battle, and learned what it meant to truly work hard on America’s western landscapes.
This man took all of his hard-driving spirit with him to the White House and put it to work delivering for the American people.
He took on big trusts and gigantic corporations that had monopolized the American economy and put a stranglehold on American workers.
And despite coming from a wealthy New York City family, this man focused on delivering a “Square Deal” to working class Americans.
But perhaps his most important and lasting legacy was this.
After our country’s previous century of explosive growth across the North American continent, he saw clearly that we needed to rein in the pillaging of our forests, the draining of our wetlands, the destruction of America’s wildlife, and the loss of irreplaceable cultural resources.
He saw that we only had one chance left to protect the splendors of our uniquely American landscapes for future generations.
When Donald Trump looks up every once and a while from his television screen or from yet another tweetstorm on his phone to the portrait of that great American president, I’m sure he sometimes tells himself that he could be just like Teddy Roosevelt.
I’m sure he imagines that he is equally deserving of a place on Mount Rushmore.
That if it weren’t for his bonespurs that he could have been just as tough as Teddy—charging up San Juan Hill or riding on horseback through the Dakota Badlands rather than jumping into a golf cart.
These delusions of grandeur reached a new height last week, when the president told a crowd that in Florida that he has been: “the number one environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.”
I don’t really need to tell you that this claim is just about as absurd as saying that he has done a great job protecting Americans from the coronavirus that has now led to the deaths of nearly 200,000 of our countrymen.
Or his claims that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for sending love letters to a nuclear-armed despot in North Korea or making long-term peace in the Middle East even more out of reach.
But let’s pause and take a look at what President Trump’s record has actually been on the environment.
Yes, I will acknowledge that President Trump has signed some great pieces of conservation legislation that many of us here in the Senate worked hard to pass with veto-proof majorities.
But since taking office, President Trump has also empowered an army of former oil, coal, and timber industry lobbyists to roll back nearly every protection of wildlife habitat, clean air, and clean water that they could get their hands on.
He has systematically attacked climate science, setting us up for worse and worse natural disasters like the fires that are now experiencing across the West.
Just one year into his presidency, Donald Trump did something no president in the last 100 years would have ever thought to do.
He completely erased national monument designation for treasured red rock landscapes in southern Utah’s Bears Ears.
By doing so, he also gutted key protections for cultural sites that tribal nations across the American Southwest hold to be sacred.
That egregious and, I believe, illegal action cut against the very heart of the Antiquities Act.
This is the law that many presidents over the last century used to protect so many of our national monuments and national parks.
The Antiquities Act was truly Teddy Roosevelt’s landmark conservation achievement during his presidency.
Rather than carry on Roosevelt’s legacy, President Trump used the Antiquities Act in a novel new way.
He used it to unprotect two National Monuments—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
Now over two million acres of the most paleontologically important and culturally significant sites in the entire Southwest are open for uranium mining, ATV abuse, and fossil fuel extraction.
Just a few weeks ago, in a similarly destructive act, President Trump opened up our nation’s marquee national wildlife refuge in the Arctic to industrial oil and gas drilling.
It seems that there are no landscapes that are too sacred to make a quick buck in this White House.
Not even the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd will be spared.
He is also now threatening to allow previously unthinkable proposals like uranium mining in the Grand Canyon.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind could call that a great record on conservation or environmentalism, not by any measure.
And that takes us to why we are here today.
President Trump’s decision to put William Perry Pendley in charge of the public lands that are the birthright of every American.
We have a saying in New Mexico: “Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres.”
Loosely translated it means, “Tell me who you hang around with and I will tell you who you ARE.”
I think it says a great deal that President Trump has chosen to “hang around” with William Perry Pendley.
For the last 30 years, Mr. Pendley has been a driving force in a campaign fueled by anti-government propaganda, and propped up by special interests and extractive industry dollars, to seize and sell off the American people's public lands.
As an industry paid lawyer and lobbyist, Mr. Pendley has fought against hunting and fishing access laws and supported the elimination of protections for our national monuments.
In fact, he has championed the repeal of the very law that Teddy Roosevelt used to protect the Grand Canyon.
He has filed numerous lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to deny access to public lands for sportsmen and attacking key protections for wildlife, clean air, and clean water.
Now President Trump has placed him in charge of the federal agency that manages so many of our public lands across the West.
This is a man who is on record saying we should “sell all BLM lands” east of the Mississippi.
And President Trump handpicked this zealot to lead the agency responsible for stewarding those very same public lands?
What would Teddy Roosevelt think?
William Perry Pendley’s beliefs harken back to the era right before Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, when railroad barons, hard rock mining operators, and timber companies were given free rein over our landscapes and our natural resources.
By putting Mr. Pendley in charge of the Bureau of Land Management, President Trump is saying loud and clear that he wants to take us backward to those same failed and destructive policies of the past.
I am proud that the entire Senate Democratic Caucus joined a broad coalition of hunters, fishermen, wildlife advocates, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who called on President Trump to withdraw Mr. Pendley’s nomination.
Thanks to that widespread outcry from those of us who love our public lands, President Trump was forced to withdraw Mr. Pendley’s nomination last month.
But forcing the Trump administration to withdraw the Pendley nomination was only half the battle.
In fact, William Perry Pendley is still sitting in his office today, leading the Bureau of Land Management in his previous “acting” capacity.
President Trump has shown that he's willing to circumvent Congress and skip the constitutionally required confirmation process for other key federal leadership posts by illegally placing people into unofficial and indefinite “acting” roles.
Mr. Pendley has now been serving in one of these, color-outside-the-lines “acting” posts for well over a year.
As long as the Republican Senate majority refuses to act on its constitutional duty to hold this administration accountable on nominations like this, Mr. Pendley and other Trump officials in “acting” roles can and will continue to operate with impunity.
That’s not right.
And in this case, we are talking about someone whose whole career has been built on opposition to the very idea that public lands should remain in public hands.
Mr. Pendley’s role in the Trump administration represents a direct attack on Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy for our environment.
The mission of public land management should be focused on serving the American public and safeguarding the values that deliver benefits to the American people.
In these times, that means that work by the leaders of our land management agencies should be rooted in the conservation of our wildlife, our water, and our landscapes.
Their missions should include expanding access to outdoor recreation, preserving biodiversity, restoring healthy carbon sequestering forests and productive watersheds.
They should work alongside tribal nations and rural communities to protect cultural landscapes and promote sustainable economic development.
Or as Teddy Roosevelt put it more simply and much more artfully than I could all those years ago:
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
The question before us here in the Senate is if whether we will stand by as those greedy interests take what is our American birthright, or whether we will stand up for our sacred heritage.
I choose to stand up.
Mr. President, colleagues, I hope you will join us.