‘That’s the law’: Murkowski confronts BLM nominee about ANWR

Tracy Stone-Manning at her Senate confirmation hearing. (Senate video screenshot)

President Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management works at the National Wildlife Federation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was among several Republicans who took issue with that during Tracy Stone-Manning’s confirmation hearing this week. The BLM is required to make federal land available for multiple uses, including development. Murkowski questioned how that’s compatible with Stone-Manning’s career.

“You’re working for an organization that, for years, has worked to prevent the sale and transfer of national public lands to state and private owners,” Murkowski said at the hearing.

First, Murkowski confronted Stone-Manning over the reversal of a BLM land action from the final days of the Trump administration. The Trump administration issued orders freeing up BLM land in Alaska for state selection and possible mineral development. The Biden administration put those orders on pause. Murkowski told Stone-Manning it would be up to her to end the pause and make those lands available to the state, to fulfill the land entitlement promised to Alaska at statehood. 

“I look at this situation that you will have oversight of, and that causes me deep concern,” Murkowski said.

Stone-Manning was conciliatory.

“Senator, that’s fair,” the nominee said. “And if I had the honor to be confirmed, I understand that being the director of BLM is a very different job than the work I have done at the National Wildlife Federation.”

Stone-Manning said she’d follow the law. Murkowski did a quick pivot and reminded her what’s in the 2017 tax law. A section — added by Murkowski herself — requires the government to hold two auctions for drilling leases on the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The first was in January.

“If confirmed as BLM director, you will be the one responsible for holding the second lease sale by 2024, which is currently mandated by law,” Murkowski said.

Stone-Manning said an ongoing environmental lawsuit might influence what happens to the second lease sale, but she again committed to following the statute. 

Murkowski told her of the legal mandate half a dozen more times. She read that section of the statute out loud.

“That’s the law. That’s the law,” Murkowski said. “And litigation is going on, but this is the law.”

The Bureau of Land Management manages 70 million acres in Alaska, plus the oil and mineral resources beneath other federal land.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on Stone-Manning’s confirmation.

Watch Stone-Manning’s full nomination hearing.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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