The RPC Illegally Gave Fossil Fuel Industry Influence Over Mineral Leasing Policy, Made Recommendations Harmful to America’s Public Lands
Committee’s Charter Expired April 21st, Administration Has Not Renewed
Disbandment Doesn’t Absolve Administration From Unlawfully Maintaining the RPC – Case Moves Forward
Washington, DC— Following sustained legal pressure from Democracy Forward and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, the Trump administration has disbanded the Department of Interior’s unlawful Royalty Policy Committee. The RPC, established by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and led by current Secretary David Bernhardt, violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by secretly allowing fossil fuel interests to drive federal mineral policy on public and private lands—all while denying communities impacted by these recommendations a voice on the committee, according to a pending lawsuit filed by the groups.
Despite the RPC’s apparent disbanding, WORC and Democracy Forward are pressing forward in their legal challenge to stop the administration from relying on recommendations made by the illegally chartered RPC and to force DOI to release records. On Thursday, May 2, 2019, the plaintiffs will file a motion for summary judgment calling for an injunction against committee business and the release of subcommittee materials.
“In response to our lawsuit, the Trump administration appears to have disbanded Zinke’s illegal Royalty Policy Committee—a group that operated in secret and was stacked with the fossil fuel industry,” said Democracy Forward Press Secretary Charisma Troiano. “With Secretary Bernhardt now at the helm, we will continue to work to stop the Trump administration and its industry allies from making public lands policy behind closed doors.”
“Zinke’s Royalty Policy Committee was dominated by the fossil fuel industry, but though the administration decided to not renew RPC’s charter we are under no illusions as to the access or influence the industry retains with Bernhardt’s Interior,” said WORC Member and Montana rancher Ellen Pfister. “With their former lobbyist now in the Secretary’s office, the industry will find it easier to dispense with discussions in the public eye.”
Royalties paid for extracting taxpayer-owned coal, oil, and gas are used to fund education and other critical services for Mountain West state residents. For example, Wyoming receives more than $1 billion annually from federal royalties, a figure equivalent to thousands of dollars per state resident; and 75% of royalty payments received from mineral disbursements from state land in Montana go to the state general fund.
Last year, WORC, represented by Democracy Forward, sued the Department of the Interior for illegally creating the RPC, which the groups said was filled with representatives from the fossil fuel industry to the exclusion of representatives from ranchers, landowners, taxpayers, and conservationists who are affected by the RPC’s recommendations.
In January, a federal court in Montana rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss the case and required the DOI to explain why the public interest benefits from the delegation of public lands and minerals policy to the fossil fuels industry.
Furthermore, since the RPC developed its policy recommendations behind closed doors, through subcommittees and working groups stacked with special interests, the court ordered the administration to release records demonstrating that the full RPC did not rubber stamp subcommittee recommendations.
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, MT, the Western Organization of Resource Councils is a regional network of grassroots community organizations that include 15,190 members and 39 local chapters in 7 western states. WORC helps its member groups succeed by providing training and coordinating issue work.