GOP Pushes Back On President Biden’s BLM Pick At Confirmation Hearing

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The Bureau of Land Management will learn Wednesday how many of its career staff will follow orders and move to new posts across the West. About two dozen positions will be based at the BLM’s new national headquarters in the small, high-desert city of Grand Junction. More than 70 percent of Mesa County is public land, including this rocky swath, about 15 miles from new head office.

Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management, faced some tough questions during a two hour confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Like many of Biden’s nominees, past Tweets and policy positions drew the eye of many Republican Senators. In his opening remarks, Sen. John Barrasso, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, noted that if confirmed, Stone-Manning will have a lot of say over lands and minerals in every state. 

He mentioned her past support for restrictions on various uses of public lands, her opposition to an “energy dominance” agenda, which was a policy objective of the former president’s, her criticism of some Republican politicians, and her opposition to moving the Bureau of Land Management, as examples.

“The Bureau of Land Management needs a director who believes in and is committed to upholding the agency’s multiple use mandate,” the Wyoming Senator said. “Based on her record, I’m concerned Ms. Stone-Manning does not fit the bill.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester introduced Stone-Manning at the confirmation hearing. She used to work for the Montana senator early in her career. And he took issue with Barasso’s characterization. “The points that you brought up... did not describe the person I just talked about,” Tester said. “[Stone-Manning] listens, she works, she does the right thing.”

He called her a perfect choice to lead the public lands agency.

“Tracy is a proven leader, with a track record of working across the aisle to get things done. She is honest, she is driven by facts, not by political ideology,” Tester said.

But that didn’t mollify GOP senators, one of whom asked outright how she planned to work with Republicans when it seems like she doesn’t “particularly care for them.”

She said her late-parents were Republicans and that she currently lives in a bipartisan landscape. “I think that my career has shown that the only way to get things done in the country, and specifically in the West, is to work together,” she replied.

Stone-Manning talked a lot about her varied professional background. She started as a local environmental activist before going to work for Tester, then headed the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and ran Gov. Steve Bullock’s office as his Chief of Staff, before taking a job with the National Wildlife Federation.

“My professional life has been informed by a private passion for hiking, backpacking, hunting, and floating. The power I’m granted by the mountains and rivers I love is ineffable but real. This rare privilege has left me fiercely committed to ensure everyone, and future generations, shares the same opportunity,” she said told committee members. “I think every step of my career has prepared me for this role.”

And she stressed her ability to work with different groups of people and interests. “I have spent a career… balancing the needs of various communities and stakeholders. And I would do that and then some in this position,” she said. More than 100 conservation and public lands groups sent a letter to Senate leaders urging her confirmation.

Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper is hoping those characteristics will come into play as the Bureau weighs whether to keep its headquarters in Grand Junction or return to Washington, DC. Hickenlooper noted the move was “done in haste and didn't pan out the way it was promised.” He says the victims of the move weren’t just the employees, but the people of Grand Junction.

The Interior Department is reviewing the move and surveying employees about it.  Stone-Manning said, if confirmed, she’s committed to carrying the concerns of the people of the Western Slope city with her as they consider the headquarters’s future. 

The BLM was without a confirmed leader for the entire Trump administration and Democrats urged quick confirmation of Stone-Manning.

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