HELENA — After more than an hour of contentious debate, a U.S. Senate committee deadlocked Thursday along party lines on the confirmation of Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning to head the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
But under Senate rules, Stone-Manning’s nomination still heads to the floor, where it seems likely she will be confirmed in a close vote, if all Democrats support her in the 50-50 Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris would break a tie vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Thursday that Republicans are “trying to turn this consensus-driven, well-respected nominee into another partisan flashpoint."
Stone-Manning is an "honest broker" and will be "a faithful steward of America's national treasures," he said.
The BLM manages millions of acres of federal land and mineral rights, mostly in the West. It’s expected to play a key role in the Biden administration’s plans to shift public-land and energy policy toward more renewable power.
All 10 Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, voted against her confirmation.
Daines and fellow Republicans sharply criticized Stone-Manning for her role in a 1989 tree-spiking incident in an Idaho forest, saying she lied to the committee and was part of an eco-terrorist conspiracy.
“You will never hear me say that she was a tree-spiker,” Daines said. “But she was very much involved with her roommates and others in a tree-spiking crime. …
“She stayed silent for four years until (a new investigation). It makes me wonder what else she isn’t being forthcoming about.”
Stone-Manning admitted to sending a letter to the U.S. Forest Service in 1989, warning them about the spiked trees in an Idaho timber sale. She told the committee she didn’t take part in the spiking or any planning of it, didn’t write the letter and sent it only because one of the spikers asked her to do it.
She testified against the spikers in a 1993 federal trial, after being granted “limited use immunity” for her testimony.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia and the chair of the committee, consistently defended Stone-Manning, saying she was not a target of the investigation and was never charged.
He also said she has an “exemplary record” of working with people from all interests on public-land and conservation issues during her career.
Stone-Manning most recently has worked for the National Wildlife Federation and earlier worked as state director for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and director of the state Department of Environmental Quality under Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
In a statement after the committee vote Thursday, Tester called Stone-Manning "a tireless advocate for the public lands that drive Montana’s economy," and said she has worked often to "find collaborative solutions to some of our most challenging issues while bringing diverse viewpoints together to get things done."
"She will bring Montana common sense to an agency that desperately needs it while serving as a nonpartisan steward for some of our nation’s greatest treasures, and I look forward to confirming her on the Senate floor as quickly as possible,” he said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, said the “over-the-top” opposition to Stone-Manning is really a battle over the future of public lands in America, trying to halt a new direction that the Biden administration wants to take, on energy development and other issues.