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Montana nominee for national BLM director faces tough questions from GOP senators

Stone-Manning before Sen Energy Committee
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Posted at 5:07 PM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 20:14:55-04

HELENA — Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning, nominated to head the U.S. Bureau of Land Management under President Biden, faced some pointed questions Tuesday from Republicans at her Senate confirmation hearing.

GOP senators – including Montana’s Steve Daines – grilled Stone-Manning about her past positions on natural-resource development on federal lands, suggesting she would be an opponent of mining and other industrial activity.

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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Daines asked about her written comments in 2015, calling the proposed Rock Creek copper-and-silver mine near Libby “philosophically abhorrent.”

“It would create 300 full-time jobs and $175 million in tax revenue,” he said. “I’ve heard concerns from the community that such a strong opposition as yours against a Montana-led project might be indicative of a larger bias against mining on public lands.”

Sen. John Barrasso, D-Wyo., also said her career has “been defined by policies that restrict multiple-use activities on public land,” and that he was troubled by her “unvarnished political partisanship.”

Stone-Manning, who’s been a National Wildlife Federation executive in Missoula since 2017, served earlier as chief of staff for then-Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and in his cabinet as director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

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U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

She also served as state director for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. – who introduced her at the Tuesday hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and answered Barrasso’s comments.

“This person listens, she works, she does the right thing,” he said. “She is someone who believes in multiple use and appropriate use. … I would not be here today introducing her if I thought she was the person you described.”

The BLM, an agency within the Interior Department, has oversight of 247 million acres of federal land, most of it in the West, and manages 700 million acres of federal mineral rights.

If confirmed, Stone-Manning would be the agency’s first confirmed director in more than four years.

Former President Trump never had a confirmed BLM director, instead going through a series of acting directors. One of them, attorney William Perry Pendley, was ordered removed in 2020 by a federal judge – in a lawsuit filed by Bullock, while governor of Montana, saying Pendley hadn’t been confirmed by the Senate.

In her opening statement, Stone-Manning emphasized her record of working with people from all political parties and persuasions to accomplish important goals.

“The job (of DEQ state director under Bullock) required listening, gathering facts and being decisive – not jumping to conclusions,” she said. “It required trusting career staffers with decades of experience and getting them tools they needed to do their jobs.”

But she also emphasized that President Biden has “called on the country to build the equitable, clean energy of tomorrow,” conserve lands and address climate change.

“The BLM manages roughly one in 10 acres in this country,” Stone-Manning said. “It can and must help us to rise to this historic moment.”

In response to Daines’ questions about the Rock Creek mine, she said she had concerns about the mine’s potential impacts on lakes in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. But, she asked him to look at her record at DEQ and “my ability to work with closely with industrial applicants and be fair and be transparent, and to make sure that any development is able to follow the law.”

Daines also asked her if she still opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada through the northeastern corner of Montana and create jobs and tax revenue for the state and local counties.

Stone-Manning didn’t answer directly, but said she wasn’t going to “second-guess” President Biden’s decision to halt the pipeline construction in the United States.