Illegal Committee Works Behind Closed Doors to Develop Policies Harmful to Western Landowners
WORC and Democracy Forward Demand End to Closed Door Meetings to Develop Policies Harmful to Western Ranchers, Landowners and Communities
Billings, MT — Today, on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Democracy Forward filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in its ongoing lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration from allowing fossil fuel interests to drive federal mineral policy on public and private lands through the Royalty Policy Committee (RPC).
The preliminary injunction demands the RPC stop convening any meetings or conducting any further business until the Administration complies with federal transparency laws by giving notice of and opening the RPC’s subcommittee meetings to the public, releasing the subcommittee’s materials, and fairly balancing the Committee to include representatives of the public interest.
Absent an injunction, the Zinke-led RPC will continue to illegally shut out ranchers, landowners, and western conservationists while allowing the secretive panel—dominated by the fossil fuel industry—to exacerbate environmental harms inflicted by mineral extraction on western lands, such as reduced grazing land for cattle, increased air pollution, and impaired groundwater.
“We are asking the court today to drag the Royalty Policy Committee’s secret meetings and conflicts of interest out into the sunshine and bring some balance to the committee’s membership,” said Mark Fix, rancher near Miles City, Mont., and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Northern Plains Resource Council. “Landowners who deal with the impacts of mining or drilling deserve a seat at the table when federal mineral policy is crafted, but by appointing a one-sided committee Secretary Zinke made clear he never intended that landowners participate.”
The motion asserts that the RPC is stacked with members from ConocoPhillips, Cloud Peak Energy, Shell, Chevron, Concho Resources, and Incremental Oil & Gas USA, with no members representing ranchers, local landowners, or conservationists. As a result of the RPC’s lopsided and secretive decision-making process, the Committee has issued dozens of recommendations that benefit extractive industries at the expense of and without input by ranchers, land owners and western conservationists.
The Committee has, for example:
- Declined to discuss policies that would compensate the public for the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue wasted through natural gas flaring, venting, and leaks; and
- Issued several recommendations for scaling back or altering requirements for environmental review of leases under the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Secretary Zinke continues to break the law in order to sell off America’s resources to corporate interests,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Every day the Royalty Policy Committee continues to unlawfully operate in secret is another day the Trump Administration takes resources from ranchers and funnels them to oil companies.”
The RPC has also gone to great lengths to shut the public out from the development of policy recommendations and has delegated the vast bulk of policy formulation and debate to secretive subcommittees and working groups.
The motion was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Montana. The next scheduled RPC meeting is January 31, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona.
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.
Based in Billings, Mont., the Western Organization of Resource Councils is a seven-state network of grassroots community organizations working to strengthen communities and shape policies on energy and agriculture.