A federal district court in Montana rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss our 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.
The court found creation of the RPC “concerning” and part of a “troubling trend” in the administration’s approach to the rule of law.
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.”
The Royalty Policy Committee is stacked with representatives from the fossil fuel industry with no representation by ranchers, landowners, taxpayers or conservationists
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.