Senate approves choice of land agency Biden over GOP opposition



WASHINGTON –A bitterly divided Senate on Thursday evening approved President Joe Biden’s choice to oversee vast government-owned land in the West, despite complaints from Republicans that she is an “eco-terrorist.”

Tracy Stone-Manning, Biden’s choice to head the Home Office’s Land Management Office, was approved, 50-45.

Republicans sharply criticized his appointment in an often acrimonious Senate debate, with several wielding a metal spike similar to that used in a 1989 environmental sabotage case.

Democrats defended Stone-Manning, noting that she had never been charged with a felony and had actually testified against two men who had been convicted of planting trees to sabotage a timber sale in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Stone-Manning a “dangerous choice to be in charge of our public lands” and said she ” continues to have very dangerous views “against oil. and gas drilling, logging and other commercial activities on federal lands.The land management agency oversees power generation, grazing, recreation and other activities on nearly a quarter of a billion acres of public land, mostly in the West.

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Democrats have called Barrasso’s claims outrageous.

“The truth is, Tracy Stone-Manning didn’t do anything wrong. And in fact, the people who went to jail went to jail because of Tracy Stone-Manning,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D- Mountain. Stone-Manning was a senior. Assistant tester from 2007 to 2012.

Tester accused Barrasso and other Republicans of baseless “character assassination” and said the real reason GOP lawmakers opposed her appointment was that she was one of the main contributors to the campaign. former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who lost a hotly contested race last year to the Senator. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

“If anyone wants to investigate and find out what’s been going on over the past three years, with the Governor running against the Senator in this body … you will find out why people get up and make up stuff about Tracy Stone.” -Manning, ” Tester said in a passionate defense from his former assistant. “The facts don’t support what they say, and character killing isn’t something you should be proud of.”

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Stone-Manning, 56, was Bullock’s chief of staff for three years after working for Tester and is now a senior advisor to the National Wildlife Federation, an environmental group.

His advocacy for land preservation contrasts sharply with the priorities of the land office under former President Donald Trump, which accelerated oil and gas drilling and sought to open up new land for development. But his appointment was followed by Republican charges of wrongdoing in the foiled 1989 plot.

At the time, she was a 23-year-old graduate student in environmental studies at the University of Montana. Two of Stone-Manning’s friends were later found guilty of inserting metal spikes into trees, making them unsafe to cut and can be used to block logging.

She was granted immunity from prosecutors, testified against the two men and has never been charged with any crime.

Stone-Manning admitted to patching up and sending a letter on behalf of one of the convicted men warning authorities not to log into the sabotaged area. She did not come forward until the criminal case was continued several years later and said she was afraid of one of the defendants.

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Stone-Manning was an unofficial spokesperson for the activist group Earth First, which opposes logging, dam construction and other developments and advocates civil disobedience. The activists chained themselves to heavy machinery and camped in the trees to block logging and other projects. The two men who were convicted of the planned sabotage were loosely affiliated with the group.

Former US Forest Service investigator Michael Merkley said Stone-Manning was the target of the criminal investigation and helped plan the tree heading. Others involved in the case, including the lead prosecutor, contested this qualification.

“We’re not here to sue people. It’s not our job, ” said Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., chair of the Senate Energy Committee. Stone-Manning’s youthful “compassion” for the environment “does not make her guilty,” Manchin said, adding that he had scrutinized the 1993 trial and found no evidence that Stone-Manning was directly involved in or had committed a crime.

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“He’s a person who has devoted himself primarily to public service,” he said, praising Stone-Manning’s knowledge of natural resource issues and his “unwavering dedication to the outdoors.”

The land management office has been without a Senate confirmed director since January 2017. Trump has relied on interim directors who did not have to appear before the Senate to advance his agenda to increase production energy from federal lands.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland said on September 17 that she was moving the agency’s national headquarters to Washington, overturning Trump’s decision to move the agency to rural Colorado. The agency lost nearly 300 employees to retire or resign after relocating its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019.


Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., Contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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