Biden’s BLM pick advances to Senate floor

By Scott Streater | 07/22/2021 12:41 PM EST

Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone-Manning during her confirmation hearing. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee deadlocked today on Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Land Management, after more than an hour of contentious debate over her involvement in a tree-spiking case more than three decades ago.

But the 10-10 committee vote, split evenly along party lines, is likely little more than a procedural speed bump for Stone-Manning on her path toward eventual confirmation as director of BLM, the federal government’s largest landowner.

While the tie vote will force her nomination to be referred “unfavorably” to the full Senate, Democrats are expected to eventually approve a motion to discharge her nomination from the committee, setting up a narrow vote to eventually approve her as BLM director. It’s possible the full Senate vote could end up in a 50-50 tie, requiring Vice President Kamala Harris to serve as tiebreaker.

The timing of all this is not clear, although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) indicated today he’s ready to move. He told his colleagues during a Senate floor speech today that he looked forward to “moving her nomination to the Senate floor.”

Likewise, committee Democrats at the hearing today vigorously defended Stone-Manning against fierce criticism from Republicans over her involvement in the late 1980s and early 1990s in a tree-spiking case in which she was granted legal immunity by the Justice Department to testify against two men she knew — and eventually helped to convict.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the committee’s ranking Republican, labeled Stone-Manning an “eco-terrorist.” And Idaho Sen. James Risch (R) called Stone-Manning an “attempted murderer” for her association with the men she later helped to convict of outfitting nearly 300 trees in the Clearwater National Forest in 1989 with metal nails and spikes in an attempt to sabotage a planned timber sale.

But committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told the panel that his staff conducted a thorough review of the 1,800-page federal court record involving the tree-spiking case, and that he came away convinced Stone-Manning did nothing wrong. Manchin said the court record shows she did not participate in the tree-spiking and he saw no evidence she knew in advance of the plan to sabotage the trees.

“I have been unable to find any evidence in the exhaustive trial record of the tree-spiking case that shows Tracy Stone-Manning was an eco-terrorist, that she spiked any trees, that she conspired with eco-terrorists to spike trees, or that she lied to the committee,” Manchin said. “What I find instead is compelling evidence that she built a solid reputation over the past three decades as a dedicated public servant and as a problem solver that brought people together.”

He later labeled Stone-Manning a “youthful sympathizer for the environment” based on her association with the tree-spiking suspects, and her loose affiliation with the environmental group Earth First.

But that view, shared by other Democrats on the committee, seemed to inflame some GOP members, sparking a succession of passionate speeches against Stone-Manning that appeared to surprise Manchin at times.

“Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with eco-terrorists, she lied to this committee, and she continues to harbor extremist views most Americans find reprehensible,” Barrasso said. “She is thoroughly disqualified from holding the important position of director of the Bureau of Land Management.”

Risch went even further, describing the danger that spiking trees with nails and other metal objects poses not only to loggers but also to workers at timber mills.

Risch held up a 10-inch metal spike: “Why do you put this in a tree? You put this in a tree to kill somebody. It’s not put in there for fun; it’s not a Sunday school prank. You put this in a tree to kill somebody.”

He added, “Some of my friends that I’ve talked with in Congress say, ‘Well, she made a mistake 30 years ago.’ This is not a mistake. This is a knowing, willful, intentional act done with a black, abandoned and malignant heart intended to kill a fellow human being.”

The strong criticism, and the resulting 10-10 vote, was expected. All 10 Energy and Natural Resources Committee Republicans last week submitted a letter calling on Biden to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination (E&E Daily, July 15).

While Stone-Manning was not involved in the tree spiking, she did send an anonymous letter to the Forest Service that was written by John Blount, one of the two men convicted of the sabotage. While Stone-Manning said she had no advance knowledge of the tree-spiking plot, Blount told E&E News this month she had agreed to send the letter and knew of the sabotage operation weeks in advance (Greenwire, July 15). Other people who were involved have denied that assertion, saying she wasn’t involved at all except for sending the letter.

A Forest Service special agent who investigated the tree-spiking case has also said that Stone-Manning did not cooperate with the investigation, setting it back by years.

The GOP opposition to Stone-Manning at today’s hearing centered as much on her sometimes vague written responses to questions from senators as it did about the tree spiking itself.

For their part, committee Democrats strongly defended Stone-Manning, noting her extensive work over the past 25 years as director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, chief of staff for former Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and currently as a senior official with the National Wildlife Federation. Stone-Manning has earned public praise from Bullock and others for her ability to work with stakeholders from various sides of an issue to find solutions.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) condemned Republicans on the committee, saying their criticisms amounted to a partisan effort to ruin the reputation of a well-qualified candidate to serve as BLM director.

“I’ve heard a lot of lies about Tracy Stone-Manning in this committee,” he said.

He noted that some of the Republicans on the committee opposed supporting an investigation into the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol by supporters of former President Trump. “And yet they’re hellbent on dragging Ms. Tracy Stone-Manning’s name through the mud. Her reputation, until this confirmation hearing, was impeccable. I am disgusted by what has happened in this committee — disgusted. And I will never forget it.”

Other nominees

The committee also approved Robert Anderson as Interior solicitor by a vote of 10-9. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the lone Republican to vote in favor of Anderson, who is currently serving as the agency’s principal deputy solicitor. The committee initially voted, by the same margin, to approve Anderson in May, but today’s revote was required to correct a procedural mistake.

The committee also via voice voted today to advance:

• Shalanda Baker to be director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact at the Department of Energy.

• Samuel Walsh to be general counsel at the Department of Energy.

• Andrew Light to be an assistant secretary of Energy for international affairs.