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Democrats stand behind Biden public lands pick amid pushback

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S.
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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. Senate panel deadlocked Thursday on President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee vast government-owned lands in the West, as Democrats stood united behind a nominee whose credibility was assailed by Republicans over her links to a 1989 environmental sabotage case.

The 10-10 tie in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sets up a floor vote on the nomination of Tracy Stone-Manning. It would take every Senate Republican plus at least one Democratic lawmaker to block her confirmation in the evenly divided chamber.

At stake is the leadership of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, which oversees energy production, recreation and other activities across almost a quarter-billion acres of public lands, primarily in the West.

Stone-Manning was a top aide to former Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and most recently worked as a vice president at the National Wildlife Federation. Her advocacy for land preservation contrasts sharply with the land bureau's priorities under former President Donald Trump, who sped up oil and gas drilling approvals and sought to open up new lands to development.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state said fierce opposition to Stone-Manning among Republicans was rooted in her potential to bring change to the agency.

“This is over the top opposition," Cantwell said. "What is really on trial here is the future of America's public lands ... oil, gas, coal, mineral extraction."

Republican lawmakers have focused on Stone-Manning's links to the 1989 sabotage of a timber sale on Idaho's Clearwater National Forest, calling her an “eco-terrorist” unfit to oversee the land bureau.

Two of Stone-Manning’s friends were convicted more than four years later of inserting metal spikes into trees, which makes it dangerous to cut them down She received immunity from prosecutors and testified against them.

“This wasn't a mild offense in which she conspired,” said Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee. People are hurt and killed by this kind of behavior."

West Virginia Democrat and committee Chairman Joe Manchin said no evidence had emerged to indicate Stone-Manning committed any sort of crime.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he would call a vote on her nomination before the full Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris could a break tie for confirmation.

Matthew Brown, The Associated Press