WASHINGTON – Democrats are preparing to make their voices heard by the appointment of Tracy Stone-Manning as head of the Bureau of Land Management, despite united opposition from Republicans who have called her an “eco-terrorist” because of her involvement in a tree planting episode as a graduate student in the 1980s.
The vote on his nomination, scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sets up a battle between Republicans and Democrats for an agency at the center of climate policy.
The Bureau of Land Management is an agency of the Home Office that oversees grazing, logging and drilling on 245 million acres of public land and manages 700 million acres of mineral rights. It is responsible for balancing the extraction of oil, gas and coal with recreation and the protection of natural resources. It’s also critical to President Biden’s goal of phasing out oil and gas drilling on federal lands – a plan that is being challenged by 15 states led by Republican attorneys general.
“The concerns that many people have about Stone-Manning’s appointment are that she will be more on the side of protecting public lands for public purposes, and people who want public lands to be used for more. development don’t like it, ”said Mark Squillace, professor of natural resource law at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“These other issues are being used as a way to block its confirmation,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really cares what she did 32 years ago.”
Ms Stone-Manning, 55, has built a career in environmental policy, working as an assistant to Senator Jon Tester of Montana and as chief of staff to former Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, both Democrats, as well as the leader of the Montana’s environment agency, where she has earned a reputation as a bridge builder between environmentalists, ranchers and fossil fuel interests. She is currently a senior conservation policy advisor at the National Wildlife Federation, a non-profit conservation group.
But Republicans argue that her actions in 1989 and her recounting of that episode in the years that followed make her unfit for the job. They have written to President Biden asking her to withdraw her nomination and they plan to vote against her en bloc on the committee.
Republicans have also fought the choice of Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet secretary, over her opposition to expanding oil and gas drilling on public lands. While Mrs Haaland narrowly obtained confirmation, that process turned into a proxy fight over climate policy.
The Tories were more successful in March in forcing the Biden administration to withdraw its choice for Assistant Home Secretary Elizabeth Klein after state coal and oil senators opposed Ms. Klein’s conviction according to which the nation must reduce its use of fossil fuels.
“Oil and gas, coal, these industries are in decline or face serious declines,” said John Leshy, professor of law emeritus at the University of California, Hastings.
He attributed this to market forces more than government policies, but said the Home Office has become the place where the fiercest battles are currently being fought for the future of these industries.
“There is a lot of frustration associated with this,” Mr. Leshy said. “And we are at a point where those frustrations have become evident.”
Ms Stone-Manning has never been charged with a felony and three decades ago was not involved in the effort to drive 500 pounds of metal spikes into trees in Clearwater National Forest in Idaho , federal crimes for which two men were subsequently convicted.
Nailing down trees is a tactic to try to prevent logging by inserting metal rods into trees that could damage a saw blade. It was used in the 1980s by activists who hoped to make logging unprofitable, but the practice was dangerous; spikes can injure or kill loggers.
Ms. Manning, then a 23-year-old graduate student, patched up and posted a vulgar letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of one of the activists who planted the trees. Ms Stone-Manning described her act as an effort to warn authorities and protect people from harm.
Republicans accused Ms Stone-Manning of lying to lawmakers about whether she had ever been the target of an investigation, a charge the administration denied.
The 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee are expected to split evenly across parties. That would force Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York to discharge the nomination, a rare move that would put it before the full Senate for a vote. If the Senate is divided on the basis of parties as well, Democrats would need Vice President Harris to break the tie.
The White House this week released a statement supporting Ms. Stone-Manning.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dedicated public servant with years of experience and a proven track record in finding solutions and common ground with respect to our public lands and waters,” said Vedant Patel, spokesperson of the White House. “She is exceptionally qualified to be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
Republicans say new statements from personalities involved in the peaks episode indicate Ms Stone-Manning was more involved than she claimed.
“We now know that the person President Biden appointed to head the Bureau of Land Management lied in the Senate about his alleged involvement in ecoterrorism,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, in a statement. communicated. “The White House should immediately withdraw his appointment.”
Mr Tester said the charges against Ms Stone-Manning “smacked of political libel”.
“The Tracy Stone-Manning I know is someone who has spent the last 20 plus years bringing people together from both sides of the aisle from all parts of the industry,” he said.
According to court documents, in the spring of 1989, when Ms Stone-Manning was an environmental studies student at the University of Montana in Missoula, Earth First! Activists including John Blount and Jeffrey Fairchild hammered nails into centuries-old trees. . in the Idaho forest to try to stop a timber sale.
Subsequently, Ms Stone-Manning said, Mr Blount asked her to Send a letter he gave her a warning to the forest service, which she did after patching it up. She later told prosecutors that this was the first time she had learned about the use of the tree and was “shocked” by it.
In 1993, Ms. Stone-Manning testified against Mr. Fairchild and Mr. Blount in exchange for immunity.
Last week, Michael W. Merkley, a retired US Forest Service investigator who was the special agent in charge of the case, written to the legislators of the Senate and said that when the government first investigated the crime of tracing trees, Ms Stone-Manning was unnecessary and combative. He also said she had received a “target letter” indicating that she would be charged in connection with her participation.
“Ms. Stone-Manning only came forward after her lawyer concluded the immunity agreement and not before she was arrested,” Mr. Merkley said.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, cites this along with a 1990 interview Ms Stone-Manning gave as evidence that she lied in response to questions written submissions from the committee asking if she had ever been the target of a criminal investigation.
“She is an eco-terrorist,” Barrasso said in an interview, adding: “She lied to the committee, misled the committee in terms of past behavior and investigations.”
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas companies, said opposition to Ms Stone-Manning is based on her behavior in 1989, not her opposition to expanding fuel drilling. fossils on public lands. “It’s not like we’re going to recruit someone from the industry if we get rid of Tracy Stone-Manning,” Ms. Sgamma said. “This is his judgment.”
Mr Fairchild, who spent time in jail for his role in the tree-hanging incident, defended Stone-Manning when he was reached by phone.
“Having been one of the main attendees of this event and one of the main organizers, to the best of my recollection she did not know beforehand,” Mr Fairchild said, adding that Ms Manning was known. for his opposition to violence.
“Tracy has always been a moderating voice,” he said. “We were talking about ending old growth logging, and she was the first to say, ‘Yes, but loggers have families too.’ “
Mr Tester said he was also not worried about the allegations. “We have the voices to confirm it,” he said.