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Environment

Trump administration lawyers say no public land actions should be invalidated

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the White House after returning from hospitalization at the Walter Reed Medical Center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment, in Washington, October 5, 2020, in this still image from video posted on Trump's Twitter page. @realDonaldTrump/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - None of the actions taken by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management under a director deemed illegitimate by a federal court judge last month should be invalidated, the Trump administration argued in court papers filed on Monday.

Attorneys for the agency, an arm of the Department of Interior that oversees nearly 250 million acres of public lands, said a review showed “no relevant acts taken” by William Perry Pendley during the more than 400 days he lead BLM.

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in Montana ruled that Pendley had served unlawfully as BLM director because he was not confirmed by the Senate as required by law.

Lawyers for environmental groups have said here Morris' ruling casts doubt over a slew of the agency's recent efforts, including plans aimed at boosting oil and gas drilling on public lands and revisions to protections for a Western prairie bird.

The ruling in the suit brought by Montana Governor Steve Bullock said “any ‘function or duty’” of the BLM Director performed by Pendley “must be set aside.” He gave attorneys 10 days to list which decisions by Pendley should be impacted.

“The answer is none,” the response by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice said.

According to federal documents, the BLM Director at the time Pendley was heading the agency helped finalize numerous “Resource Management Plans,” including two in Montana, guiding how large swathes of federal lands are used and developed. In its response, the federal government said that those actions had in fact been delegated to another official.

In its response filed earlier on Monday, Montana said three land use plans should be set aside by the judge and added that other actions could follow suit “where a proper party can identify and challenge them.”

Reporting by Nichola Groom

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