Biden’s public lands pick wins backing by environmental advocates ahead of hearing
Environmental groups are lining up behind President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management prior to her Tuesday confirmation hearing.
More than 100 organizations wrote to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), Monday asking that the Senate confirm Tracy Stone-Manning, a Montanan who led conservation and public lands policy at the National Wildlife Federation. She also served as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Stone-Manning would be the first confirmed BLM director since the Obama administration.
The groups on the letter spanned the ideological range of environmental and conservation groups and included national, state and local organizations, ranging from the liberal Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity to hunting and fishing enthusiasts like the Laurel (Mont.) Rod and Gun Club.
“As a Westerner, an avid outdoorswoman, and a consensus builder, Stone-Manning has spent her career advocating for the wise stewardship of our nation’s public lands and waters,” the groups’ letter read.
“After more than four years without a Senate-confirmed director to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Stone-Manning is uniquely qualified to ensure that a balanced approach — informed by science and involving robust public participation—will guide management decisions.”
The letter was signed by 104 groups, including Arizona Faith Network, Clean Energy Action – Colorado, Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association, Maine Conservation Voters and the Idaho Wildlife Federation.
Though she may have nailed down support from the ideologically diverse environmental community, key Republican senators, including Stone-Manning’s home-state Sen. Steve Daines, have not said how they will vote on Stone-Manning’s confirmation.
Stone-Manning is scheduled to appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday morning. Daines sits on that committee, but spokeswoman Katie Schoettler declined to comment Monday when asked about Daines’ position on Stone-Manning.
“Watch the hearing tomorrow,” Schoettler said.
Another Daines spokeswoman said Daines would ask “about issues important to Montana.”
“As with all nominees, the Senator has been carefully reviewing Ms. Stone-Manning’s qualifications, her record on issues important to Montana, and listening to feedback from all Montanans,” the spokeswoman said.
Republicans have used previous confirmation hearings for Interior Department nominees to air grievances with Biden’s policies on environment and energy issues, particularly a temporary pause on new oil and gas leases.
Representatives for the committee’s Chairman Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.), and ranking Republican John Barrasso, of Wyoming, did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.
Prior to joining Bullock’s administration, Stone-Manning oversaw the state’s department of environmental quality and worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.).
Through a spokesman, Tester said Monday he’d support his former staffer.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a hardworking Montanan that will bring much-needed commonsense and accountability to the Bureau of Land Management,” Tester said. “She’s got a proven track record of putting politics aside and doing what is right for our public lands and the good-paying jobs that rely on them.”
If confirmed, Stone-Manning would lead the agency responsible for issuing federal oil and gas leases.
Stone-Manning could also seek to restore stability to an agency that did not have a confirmed director during the Trump administration and was the center of political battles during the last four years.
William Perry Pendley, the acting director under Trump, was seen as too ideologically extreme to win Senate confirmation. Conservationists, including Stone-Manning, criticized Pendley for advancing oil and gas interests on public lands at the expense of the agency’s multi-use mandate.
A federal judge ruled last year three decisions Pendley signed off on in Montana were invalid because he hadn’t been confirmed, raising uncertainty about the permanence of policy choices throughout the country during his tenure.
Even still, the agency moved from Washington to Grand Junction, Colo., during Pendley’s tenure, a controversial move that Democrats and environmentalists said was meant to weaken the agency’s influence in the nation’s capital.
Stone-Manning is likely to field a question Tuesday about the future of the BLM headquarters.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, (D-Colo.), is a member of the committee and said he met virtually with Stone-Manning on Friday. During that meeting, he encouraged her to support keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction, according to his office.
In nomination paperwork filed with the federal Office of Government Ethics, Stone-Manning said if she’s confirmed, she’ll step down from board positions with Montana Hunters and Anglers and the U.S. Forest Stewardship Council, as well as two Missoula grocery stores.
Several senior public lands posts under Biden have gone to people from environmental organizations.
Among others, Acting BLM Director Nada Wolff Culver was previously vice president for public lands with the Audubon Society and Laura Daniel-Davis, the principal deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management at Interior, was chief of policy and advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation.
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