Committee Is Stacked With Representatives From Fossil Fuel Industry With No Representation By Ranchers, Landowners, Taxpayers or Conservationists
Court Finds Creation of RPC is “Concerning” and Part of A “Troubling Trend” in the Administration’s Approach to the Rule of Law
Washington, DC- Last night, a federal district court in Montana rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Department of Interior’s Royalty Policy Committee (RPC) for secretly allowing fossil fuel interests to drive federal mineral policy on public and private lands. In a partial denial of the administration’s motion to dismiss, the court is requiring the administration to explain why the public interest is served by delegating development of public lands and minerals policy to the fossil fuels industry. The Zinke-created, Bernhardt-led RPC develops its policy recommendations behind closed doors, through subcommittees and working groups that are themselves stacked with special interests. The administration must now demonstrate that the full RPC is not rubber stamping subcommittee recommendations harmful to ranchers, landowners, taxpayers, or conservationists, all of whom are not represented on the committee. The administration must also show that it has released all materials generated for or by the full Committee.
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) and Democracy Forward issued the following statement in response to the court’s ruling in their case:
“The Trump administration tried to shield their backroom handouts to the fossil fuel industry , and today a court ordered them to come clean. We are grateful to the court for hearing our claims, and will press forward in our effort to ensure that the administration cannot formulate policy that impacts ranchers and landowners in secret and without public input.”
In issuing its opinion, the court noted that the government’s defense of the the RPC was that the administration had done the bare minimum necessary to comply with the law, an approach that “highlights a troubling trend within the current administration’s view of governing and the rule of law.” The court also explained that the gamesmanship the administration undertook to evade certain transparency and conflict of interest safeguards was “concerning.”
In response to the suit and the partial government shutdown—the longest in American history—the administration has indicated that it has ceased all RPC activities for the duration of the shutdown, and it is not likely to hold a full RPC meeting until at least six weeks after appropriations are restored. WORC and Democracy Forward will remain watchful that the administration holds true to its representations made to the court.
Background: The Royalty Policy Committee is stacked with representatives of the fossil fuels industry, with no members representing ranchers, local landowners, taxpayers, or conservationists. The groups argue that over the past year, the RPC has acted in violation of the law, has delegated the vast bulk of policy formulation and debate to secretive subcommittees and working groups, and has developed and considered recommendations harmful to the communities whose representation has been denied. In August, 2018, WORC, represented by Democracy Forward Foundation filed suit against the Trump administration, demanding that the RPC stop convening meetings or conducting further business until the administration complies with federal laws governing the conduct and composition of advisory committees, including by fairly balancing the Committee to include representatives of the public interest. WORC had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent further action by the RPC, and the administration simultaneously sought to dismiss the entirety of WORC’s Complaint. Oral argument was held on January 16, 2019. While the court denied the preliminary injunction, it rejected the government’s motion to dismiss for two of WORC’s four claims for relief.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
WORC is a regional network of grassroots community organizations that include 15,190 members and 39 local chapters. WORC helps its member groups succeed by providing training and coordinating issue work.