MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Montana’s Stone-Manning confirmed as BLM director in close Senate vote

Posted by M. C. on March 29, 2022

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BY LAURA LUNDQUIST

Tracy Stone-Manning, a Missoula resident, is now the first director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to be confirmed in more than four years.

On a close vote Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Senate confirmed Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the director of the BLM. However, 45 Republican senators opposed her confirmation, including Sen. Steve Daines. Several stepped to the rostrum to wave a metal spike and accuse her of being an ecoterrorist.

Some didn’t vote.

“Tracy Stone-Manning misled Montanans and the United States Senate about her involvement in an ecoterrorism tree spiking crime, which greatly damaged her credibility and public trust,” Daines said in a statement. “It’s now up to Stone-Manning to rebuild trust with Montanans, stakeholders, including loggers and Bureau of Land Management employees, and show that she will lead the agency in a bipartisan and pragmatic way.” 

Early in the afternoon, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called her nomination “outrageous” and called upon every Republican and “every courageous Democrat” to oppose her. He called Stone-Manning an ecoterrorist based upon a 1989 claim that she was connected to four men with EarthFirst who spiked trees to stop logging in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest.

Manning had written a letter to the Forest Service on behalf of the men warning about the spikes. She denied participating in tree spiking. But Barrasso accused her of being one of the ringleaders.

“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dangerous choice to be put in charge of America’s public lands. And each and every senator who votes to confirm her will be held personally responsible for that vote,” Barrasso said.

On Thursday, Accountable U.S., a government watchdog, accused Barrasso of opposing Stone-Manning because he gets so much campaign money from the oil and gas industry. The group’s analysis found the oil and gas industry donated almost $20,000 in the last quarter of 2020, about a third of the almost $70,000 total Barrasso received during the 2020 election cycle when he was expected to chair the Energy and Natural Resources committee.

Sen. Jon Tester stepped up, saying he wants people to hold him accountable for Stone-Manning, because after having worked with her for six years, he knows she can get the job done. Stone-Manning was one of Tester’s senior aids a decade ago.

Tester said the Republicans were opposed to Stone-Manning because she worked as Gov. Steve Bullock’s chief of staff until 2017. Shortly after that, Bullock challenged Daines for the U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

“If somebody wants to go into the investigation and find out what’s happened over the last three years with the governor running against a sitting senator in this body and her being the governor’s chief of staff, you will find out why folks stand up and make stuff up about Tracy Stone-Manning. Because the facts don’t back up what they’re saying,” Tester said. “And the character assassination is not something to be proud up.”

In April, Biden nominated Stone-Manning to take over the agency that had been diminished under the Trump administration.

As the BLM’s unconfirmed “acting director” for a year and a half, William Perry Pendley – a Mountain States Legal Foundation attorney who sued the BLM several times in favor of extractive industries – created BLM policies and management plans that favored oil and gas companies, and he moved the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C., to his home state of Colorado, prompting hundreds of employees to resign.

After Bullock and the state of Montana sued the Trump administration in July 2020 challenging Pendley’s authority, federal court judge Brian Morris ruled the U.S. Senate hadn’t confirmed Pendley so he was illegally running the Bureau of Land Management. Many of Pendley’s actions were reversed as a result, but only a week ago did Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announce the headquarters would return to D.C.

Stone-Manning is going through the Congressional process that Pendley sidestepped. But in July, she faced stiff opposition in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with Republicans seizing on the 1989 incident. The committee deadlocked on moving her confirmation to the full Senate, but later, on July 27, the Senate voted 50-49 to bring her nomination out of committee.

On Thursday, Sen. Joseph Manchin, D-W.Va., the chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said he looked into the Republican allegations that Stone-Manning was lying but found no evidence to back up their claims. He said a federal jury heard the case in 1993 and found four men guilty, but Stone-Manning was never charged. The Forest Service investigator said she wasn’t the target of the investigation, Manchin said.

Republicans say she wasn’t held accountable because she was given immunity to testify against the men and she wasn’t upfront with the Senate committee about her involvement.

“If there were any truth, a shred of truth, or evidence to support the charges, I wouldn’t be standing here. I couldn’t support it. But I found no such evidence,” Manchin said.

Even after two hours of Senate arguments, Vice President Kamala Harris didn’t need to cast a tie-breaking vote to overcome an anticipated Senate tie. 

Since 2017, Stone-Manning served as the Associate Vice President for Public Lands at the National Wildlife Federation, and the organization was primed to praise the outcome.

“After nearly five years without a Senate-confirmed leader at the helm of the Bureau and at a time when our public lands are suffering from prolonged drought, devastating wildfires, and other climate-fueled disasters, Tracy will bring visionary leadership and a collaborative management style that will restore and revitalize our public lands and waters.

“Tracy has uncommon common sense and an exceptional ability to bring people together to solve seemingly insurmountable problems,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. 

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

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