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U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks on her agency's response to western drought and wildfires on Thursday, July 22, 2021, at the Denver Water headquarters. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday stood by the Biden administration’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management as the nominee, Tracy Stone-Manning, faces increasing opposition from U.S. Senate Republicans over her links to a 1989 environmental sabotage case.

“Tracy Stone-Manning has a wealth of experience and knowledge about all issues to do with our public lands,” Haaland told reporters during a stop in Denver. “We have full faith that she will put her nose to the grindstone as soon as she’s confirmed with the Senate and work cooperatively with everyone across the federal government.”

Stone-Manning’s nomination advanced out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a 10-10 vote. If confirmed by the full Senate, which is where her nomination will next be considered, Stone-Manning would lead the Grand Junction-based agency and its role in deciding whether to allow new oil and gas drilling on federal lands. 

Stone-Manning served as a top aide to Montana’s former governor, Democrat Steve Bullock. In 2017, Stone-Manning went to work for the National Wildlife Federation where she was a critic of the Trump administration’s policies on oil and gas drilling and mining on public lands.

Republicans have pushed back on Stone-Manning’s nomination because of her link to the logging sabotage case, arguing that she can’t be trusted to lead such an important agency. In a letter sent to the U.S. Forest Service more than 30 years ago, Stone-Manning warned that trees slated for logging in Idaho had been “spiked” with pieces of metal to protest clear cutting in the forest. Spiking is potentially dangerous to loggers.

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“Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with eco-terrorists,” Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and the ranking GOP member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, according to The Washington Post.

Haaland didn’t address the 1989 case, but said Stone-Manning has “built a lot of credibility” over the past years working on environmental issues.

Stone-Manning’s nomination has the support of Colorado’s two Democratic U.S. senators. John Hickenlooper voted to advance her nomination in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday and Michael Bennet stood by her in remarks this week to The Colorado Sun.

“So far, my sense of it is that it is a hit job and people are trying to derail her nomination,” Bennet said. “That could turn out not to be true, but so far that is my honest sense of it. She was the state director for one of my favorite people in the United States Senate, (Democrat) Jon Tester, who swears by her, and I had a long conversation with her on her perspective on the BLM in the West and I think that if she can clear this hurdle — which I think she will — that she can be a very effective BLM manager for Colorado and for the Rocky Mountain West.”

Kristi Burton Brown, chairwoman of the Colorado GOP, blasted Bennet and Hickenlooper for supporting Manning-Stone.

“I believe that Colorado ranchers, loggers, farmers, and outdoors enthusiasts all deserve a leader at the BLM who isn’t an extremist, and who hasn’t collaborated with eco-terrorists to injure and maim their coworkers,” Burton Brown said in a written statement.

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Haaland is in Colorado in large part to visit the BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction as she decides whether to keep it there. The Trump administration relocated the agency out of Washington, D.C., at the behest of Colorado’s members of Congress, but some environmentalists have questioned the move and would like to see the BLM moved back east.

The Center for Western Priorities, a liberal environmental advocacy group, called on Haaland to return the BLM to Washington.

“It’s laudable that Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet want to keep jobs in Colorado,” Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a written statement. “But at the end of the day, the Trump ‘relocation’ of BLM headquarters was always designed to eviscerate the agency and force employees out, not create jobs.”

Haaland promised to visit the Grand Junction headquarters before making her decision on where it should be located.

The interior secretary also met with Gov. Jared Polis, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and top water officials in Denver on Thursday morning to discuss the drought affecting the southwest.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...