MISSOULA — Less than two months into her new job as director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning said Friday she’s determined to help lead the beleaguered agency in a new direction — both for energy development and long-term preservation of the nation’s public landscape.
In her first interview with Montana media as the new director, Stone-Manning told MTN News one emphasis will be clean-energy development – turning away from the pro-oil-and-gas, “energy dominance” agenda of the Trump administration.
“I think (President Biden) has been pretty clear that he expects us to work toward a carbon-free future on our public lands, across our country, in fact,” she said in an interview from her Missoula home.
But she said it’s also a goal to include the public and all interest groups on what that policy should look like, and ensure that BLM’s mission of “multiple use” of its 245 million acres of public lands is met.
“Our job is to serve many different stakeholders and constituencies,” she said. “And what I want to do is make sure that is balanced and fair, and that people see themselves as part of the process as to how our lands are managed — whether they live in Two Dot or New York City.”
Stone-Manning, who’s had a long career as a conservationist and political operative for Democratic officeholders in Montana, won confirmation as BLM director after a bruising political battle in the U.S. Senate.
Montana’s Republican senator, Steve Daines, led the fight to defeat her nomination but ultimately failed when she was confirmed in late September on a 50-to-45 vote. No Republican senators supported her.
Stone-Manning began the job in early October and plans to move to Washington, D.C., next week, where she said she’ll be in close contact with Interior Department officials and other staffers as they begin to refashion an agency that lost many top professionals during the Trump administration.
Trump never had a BLM director approved by the U.S. Senate, and its headquarters were moved to Grand Junction, Colo., leading to scores of veteran employees retiring or quitting rather than moving from D.C. to Colorado.
The Biden administration is moving BLM headquarters back to Washington, but it will maintain a Western BLM headquarters in Grand Junction.
Stone-Manning said a top priority will be rebuilding the agency and employee morale. A key assist in that area will be money from the federal infrastructure bill passed earlier this month and, hopefully, in the future, Biden’s Build Back Better program, which is before the U.S. Senate, she said.
The first bill has money to beef up firefighting efforts and other programs to protect against wildfires, and the second bill has funds to restore public landscapes to protect wildlife and public access, she added.
But perhaps the most visible initiative for BLM will be its action on energy development. The agency manages 700 million acres of federal mineral estate.
Stone-Manning said the Biden administration is reviewing oil-and-gas royalty payments, with an eye toward increasing the amount paid by producers and staffing up BLM officials that manage clean-energy development on public lands.
“We’re helping to set the table on what the future of energy development looks like in this country,” she said. “It’s going to be renewable, so the decisions that we’re making here and now are going to have really long-lasting effects, which is why we’ve got to get it right, and why we’re asking the public for their engagement in this topic.”
The 2020 Energy Act set a national goal of 25 gigawatts of wind, solar and geothermal power production on federal lands by 2025, Stone-Manning said.
“President Biden is asking us to turn a corner on how we manage our public lands, and that is, with a vision to the future,” she said. “And, a vision to the health of these lands and the climate, and, frankly changing them.”
When asked how this agenda might sit with rural America, and people who earn their living in resource industries, like agriculture, timber, oil, gas and other mining, Stone-Manning said she’s dedicated to following BLM’s “multiple-use” mandate, in all aspects.
“My focus … is how can we ensure that the lands, and the way we manage them, are healthy,” she said. “It’s very simple -- it’s what your mother taught you: We need to leave these lands better off than we found them. That’s my overarching goal for the work.”