Agency May Have Violated Court Order, Continued to Use Recommendations from Illegal Royalty Policy Committee to Benefit Fossil Fuel Industry

Missoula, MT— Late yesterday, a federal court granted Democracy Forward and the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) discovery against the Trump administration, expressing concern that the Department of the Interior could be violating a court order by continuing to rely on recommendations from the illegal Royalty Policy Committee (RPC). In particular, the court said DOI’s limiting environmental analysis for new drilling permits “raises a significant question” of potential noncompliance with the federal court’s judgment.

“The court issued a clear order forbidding Trump’s Department of the Interior from relying on a fossil fuel industry-stacked committee to drive America’s public lands agenda,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn. “Federal law protects the public from this kind of corrupt policymaking, and we will use every tool available to ensure that the law is upheld.”

“This administration is doing everything it can think of to accelerate and expand oil and gas development, including jettisoning protections for the environment, public health, and taxpayers, and excluding those of us who are directly affected by their decisions from the process,” said Barbara Vasquez, of Cowdrey, Colorado, who chairs WORC’s Oil and Gas Campaign Team. “This ruling grants us access to the information we need to continue to ensure that this administration does not disregard the law for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry.”

The Court previously ruled that Trump’s DOI broke the law in forming the RPC — a public lands committee stacked with industry representatives — and barred the agency from relying on or using any recommendations provided by the RPC. DOI argued that the Court’s order did not encompass ongoing reliance on RPC recommendations adopted before the injunction. The Court rejected the administration’s position, stating that “the Royalty Committee was unlawful from the start. Thus, everything the Committee did and every recommendation it issued was unlawful as well.”


Background: The Trump administration’s RPC was formed in 2017 and stacked with representatives of the fossil fuels industry, with no members representing ranchers, local landowners, taxpayers, or conservationists. In August 2018, WORC, represented by Democracy Forward, filed suit against the Trump administration, demanding that the RPC stop convening meetings or conducting further business until the administration complied with federal laws governing advisory committees. In April 2019, after WORC defeated the administration’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, DOI disbanded the RPC. On August 13, 2019, the court declared that the RPC had been unlawfully formed and barred the Trump administration from relying on or using any of the RPC’s recommendations.