Biden nominee for public lands boss hits GOP opposition

Tracy Stone-Manning, who worked as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, has been nominated to serve as director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — President Biden’s nominee to oversee vast expanses of U.S. public lands was criticized Tuesday by Republicans over her past involvement in partisan politics as a longtime Democratic aide and environmentalist, underscoring the importance lawmakers assign to a relatively small agency with broad influence over energy development and agriculture in Western states.

Senate confirmation of Tracy Stone-Manning to direct the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would mark a stark change from the government’s catering to oil and gas interests under former President Donald Trump.

It would take every Senate Republican plus at least one Democratic lawmaker to block her nomination. So far no Democratic defectors have emerged.

The land bureau has been in staffing turmoil after four years without a confirmed director and losing nearly 300 employees to retirement or resignation after its headquarters were relocated from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Interior Department officials confirmed Tuesday that only three workers ultimately relocated to Grand Junction. The revelation, first reported by the media outlet Colorado Newsline, marks the latest example of the heavy toll on the federal workforce from a broad reorganization of federal agencies under Trump, which left agencies hobbled as they regulated industry and conducted climate research.

With roughly 9,000 employees, the land bureau has jurisdiction over 245 million acres of federally owned land in Western states, managing them for uses ranging from fossil fuel extraction, renewable power development and grazing, to recreation and wilderness.

Before joining the National Wildlife Federation four years ago, Stone-Manning worked as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and supported him through his failed attempt to unseat Montana Sen. Steve Daines.

During a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Republicans lambasted her role as treasurer and board member of the environmental group Montana Conservation Voters, which ran ads against Daines. The Republicans also raised concerns she would impede energy development.

“You’ve been incredibly partisan in your past,” said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana. “It seems like from your heart, you really don’t care for Republicans.”

Stone-Manning, from Missoula in western Montana, said her deceased Republican parents would be “rolling in their graves” over the allegation of partisanship. She indicated she wanted to move on from the 2020 election and said working in a collaborative manner was the only way to make progress in the West’s contentious public lands debates.

“Elections can be tough. I was supporting my former boss, Gov. Bullock. But the election is over, and I will honor the outcome of that election,” she said.

Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper asked Stone-Manning about the headquarters relocation, saying the move was “done in haste” and let down employees of the land bureau and the city of Grand Junction, which hoped for an economic boost.

Stone-Manning said the Interior Department was reviewing the issue but gave no further details. Interior officials were unable to say how many positions at the Grand Junction office remain unfilled.

At the National Wildlife Federation Stone-Manning led the group’s efforts to preserve public lands in the West for wildlife, hiking, hunting and other nonindustrial uses.

She was previously an aide to Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and worked for a nonprofit group that pushed for the cleanup of one of the country’s largest contaminated Superfund sites, Montana’s Clark Fork River.

Tester introduced Stone-Manning at Tuesday’s hearing and rejected the GOP description of her as an ideologue.

“She is a good person with a good heart who understands the value of our public lands,” Tester said.

The land management bureau’s director post went unfilled for four years under Trump, who instead relied on a string of acting directors to execute a loosening of restrictions on industry. Chief among them was conservative lawyer William Perry Pendley, who before he took the position advocated for selling off federal lands.

Pendley was ordered removed by a federal judge after leading the bureau for more than a year without required Senate confirmation and getting sued by Bullock.

Stone-Manning, who would serve under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland if confirmed, backed the effort to oust Pendley and said he was an illegal appointee.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.
The News&Guide welcomes comments from our paid subscribers. Tell us what you think. Thanks for engaging in the conversation!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.