Biden taps Montana environmentalist for US public lands boss

Biden taps Montana environmentalist for US public lands boss

BILLINGS, Mont. -- President Joe Biden has nominated a longtime environmental advocate and Democratic aide to oversee the vast expanses of federally owned land in Western states -- the hottest political appointment increasing concerns among Republicans as Biden proceeds to curtail energy production from public reservations.

Tracy Stone-Manning of Missoula, Montana, was nominated on Thursday to guide the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over roughly a quarter-billion acres (100 million hectares) and one-fifth of the country's underground minerals, such as substantial reserves of petroleum, natural gas and coal. The agency regulates drilling, mining, grazing and other activities and is set to play an integral role in Biden's commitment announced Thursday to reduce climate warming emissions from fossil fuels by half by 2030.

Stone-Manning, 55, spent the past four years at the National Wildlife Federation, where she led the group's efforts to conserve public lands for hiking, wildlife, hunting and other nonindustrial uses.

If supported, Stone-Manning would function under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico who had been confirmed over opposition from Republicans citing her criticisms of the oil and gas market.

The White House dropped plans to install progressive Elizabeth Klein as deputy Interior secretary after exemption from Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.

The confrontations resemble political fights that took place over many of former President Donald Trump's appointees -- just now it's environmentalists and progressive activists under scrutiny versus the sector lobbyists preferred by Trump.

Stone-Manning opposed Trump's drilling-friendly policies as destructive to public lands and said in 2019 the Republican's agenda had thrown the balance between development and conservation"out of whack."

Haaland said in a declaration that Stone-Manning and Bryan Newland -- that Biden nominated Thursday to be assistant secretary for Indian Affairs -- could"help direct the Interior Department's attempts to follow a clean energy future, engage Tribal communities and governments, and protect our land, waters and wildlife habitats for generations to come."

Newland was tribal president of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan and served as a policy adviser for Indian Affairs in Interior under former President Barack Obama.

A spokesperson for Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who sought unsuccessfully to block Haaland's nomination, said Republicans are looking closely at Stone-Manning's decades as an environmental activist and her ties into conservation groups that poured money into the 2020 election.

"We are digging and studying her history and record on these sorts of problems," spokesperson Katie Schoettler said.

Daines, she said, wants to guarantee national lands remain open for both conservation and energy development.

Tester said in a statement that Stone-Manning was a"tireless public lands winner with a life of experience" who would bring much-needed change to the property bureau.

National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O'Mara said he has understood Stone-Manning because she led Montana's Department of Environmental Quality for two years starting in 2013 and believes her a"common-sense conservationist."

"I believe Tracy understands how we manage our public lands is not a choice," he said. "Her track record is actually balanced throughout her career, especially over the past twenty decades."

The land management agency's manager article went unfilled for four years under Trump, who rather relied upon a series of acting directors to execute a loosening of constraints on industry. Chief among them was conservative attorney William Perry Pendley, who before he took the position advocated for selling off federal lands.

Pendley was ordered removed by a federal judge later leading the agency for over year with no required Senate confirmation and getting sued by Montana's governor.

Stone-Manning lined up with Bullock in that struggle and sharply criticize Pendley as an illegal appointee that"thumbed his nose at a national judge" by staying at the agency after his jurisdiction was eliminated.

Montana Petroleum Association manager Alan Olson, who worked with Stone-Manning on a climate council established by Bullock, explained her as highly intelligent and"left of center" although not intense in her politics and eager to listen to opposing views.

But Olson added that he expects her to get as much pushback from Republicans as Trump appointees got from Democrats and their allies, such as Stone-Manning.

"Tracy went following Pendley. She can expect exactly the same," he explained.