WORC and Democracy Forward Advance Case to Stop Illegal Committee From Developing Self-Interested Policies Harmful to Western Ranchers, Landowners and Communities
Zinke-Created Royalty Policy Committee Develops Recommendations Behind Closed Doors, Even Refusing to Allow Public to Listen to Meetings Via Telephone
Court Hearing Scheduled for Mid-January 2019
Missoula, MT— Today, on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Democracy Forward responded to the Government’s motion to dismiss its ongoing lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s secretive and unlawful Royalty Policy Committee (RPC). Today’s legal filing emphasizes the irreparable harm caused to ranchers, local landowners, taxpayers, and conservationists by the RPC’s outsourcing of federal mineral policy to fossil fuel interests.
In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the government has not disputed certain facts and injuries that would constitute violations of federal law. For example, the government has not denied that it has excluded conservation-minded viewpoints from the Committee or that, in the government’s words, it is “dead set” on adopting policies opposed by those viewpoints. The government has also admitted that it has not complied with conflict of interest safeguards, arguing only that those safeguards should not apply to the RPC, and that, even if they did, the Department should not be held accountable for their application.
“While Secretary Zinke slinks out of Washington marred by scandal, his legacy of corruption lives on in this destructive committee,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “The Royalty Policy Committee illegally siphons resources that should be directed to American ranchers and landowners, and instead directs them to oil companies. These policies are being implemented while the Committee refuses to listen to those most harmed by their actions.”
“We remain concerned about the Royalty Policy Committee’s failure to provide a fairly balanced and transparent decision-making process, and particularly its failure to make RPC subcommittee and working group meetings and materials available to the public, its failure to provide adequate notice of Committee meetings and materials, its exclusion of categories of public interest representatives from Committee membership and deliberation, and its failure to comply with DOI’s ethics regulations,” said Beth Keading, former WORC Board Chair.
The RPC is stacked with representatives from ConocoPhillips, Cloud Peak Energy, Shell, Chevron, Concho Resources, and Incremental Oil & Gas USA, with no members representing ranchers, local landowners, taxpayers, or conservationists. Over the past year, the RPC 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 unlawfully denied.
The plaintiff’s case demands 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. Absent an injunction, the secretive RPC panel will continue to exacerbate environmental harms inflicted by mineral extraction on western lands, such as reduced grazing land for cattle, increased air pollution, and impaired groundwater.
The response was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, and the parties are scheduled to appear for a court hearing on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 in Missoula, 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.