A federal court ruled that the Trump administration violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by unlawfully forming the Royalty Policy Committee, an advisory body stacked with fossil fuel interests. As formed by the Trump administration, the Committee put fossil fuel interests in a position to drive federal mineral policy on public and private lands.

The Trump administration formed the RPC in 2017 and stacked it with representatives of the fossil fuels industry, with no members representing ranchers, local landowners, taxpayers, or conservationists. In August 2018, WORC 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 advisory committees. In April 2019, after we defeated the administration’s attempt to dismiss their lawsuit, DOI disbanded the Royalty Policy Committee.

On August 13, 2019, we secured a major legal victory with a court declaration that the RPC was unlawfully formed and that the Trump administration is barred from relying on or using any of the public lands policy recommendations provided by what it called a “tainted” RPC.

The court was unsparing in its criticism of the RPC’s formation, stating that “[t]he agency had the obligation and opportunity to comply with FACA from the start. It did not do so…[and] it cannot now rely on recommendations from an advisory committee whose very existence flies in the face of FACA.”

The RPC issued dozens of recommendations for DOI action that benefit extractive industries at the expense of other uses of public lands and other stakeholders. These include:

  • Shortening timelines for drilling permits by limiting public and environmental review.
  • Allowing coal companies to calculate the royalties they pay to the public by using non-arm’s length transactions.

“The court’s ruling is clear: the Trump administration illegally formed a committee stacked with industry lobbyists to advise on rules for the development of public lands and minerals,” said Ellen Pfister, rancher near Shepherd, Mont., and member of WORC. “The Royalty Policy Committee was one-sided from the start and left out the views of ranchers, conservationists and anyone who opposes the administration’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda. We are pleased that the administration is prevented from relying on any of its recommendations.”

The Trump administration has mounted a sustained attack on the safeguards provided by FACA. In June, President Trump issued an Executive Order that would effectively eliminate many lawful advisory committees, increasing the risk that the administration will expand its practice of using unlawful committees filled with industry executives and cronies of the President and his advisors, positioning them to advise on federal policies from which they stand to benefit.