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Ethics Questions Arise Around Push For Grand Canyon Uranium Mining

Photo of William Perry Pendley.
U.S. Department of the Interior

As the nation’s largest nuclear energy lobbying group pushes the Trump administration to open up lands near Grand Canyon National Park to uranium mining, a government watchdog is raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest. 

Before William Perry Pendley became acting director of the Bureau of Land Management in July, he was the president of a legal firm that sued the federal government in 2012 on behalf of the Northwest Mining Association. 

That group wanted to challenge an Obama-era uranium mining ban on 1 million acres of public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon. 

The ban was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but now Pendley is in charge of managing many of those same federal lands. In August, the president of the Nuclear Energy Institute sent a letter to top Trump administration officials urging them to withdraw uranium mining bans near the park and across the West.

Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the non-profit Western Values Project, is concerned that Pendley will continue to work on behalf of industries that want to mine uranium near Grand Canyon.

“If folks like Pendley want to continue to shill for the mining industry, they should do it without collecting a government paycheck,” said Jayson O’Neill, deputy director of the non-profit Western Values Project. 

On Thursday, the BLM released a list of 51 groups, clients and matters that Pendley will not work with due to conflicts of interest from his former legal career. While it includes the Northwest Mining Association, which has since been renamed the American Exploration and Mining Association, it does not include the specific lawsuit. 

A BLM spokesperson said that Pendley signed an ethics pledge when he joined the Trump administration.He has recused himself from any matters involving the legal activities of his former law firm.

"Mr. Pendley takes his ethics obligations under the ethics laws, regulations, and President Trump’s ethics pledge very seriously,” agency spokesperson Derrick Henry wrote in an email. 

Pendley’s temporary term as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management ends on September 30, but he is widely expected to be reauthorized by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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