Western Organization of Resource Councils v. Zinke

On behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Democracy Forward filed suit against the Trump Administration for unlawfully creating the “Royalty Policy Committee” (RPC) designed to help extractive industries avoid paying a fair value to America’s taxpayers for the privilege of extracting taxpayer-owned coal, oil, and gas, all in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).


Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stacked the RPC with representatives of oil, gas, and coal companies who stand to directly benefit from reduced payments for resource extraction — payments that are used to fund education and other critical services for Mountain West state residents. For example:


  • In Colorado, nearly half of the $92 million received in royalties from state land extraction are allocated to the State Public School Fund;


  • New Mexico receives nearly $500 million in annual revenue derived from federal mineral disbursements. These royalty payments are used to help fund state schools and hospitals;


  • Montanans could see reductions in royalty payments received from mineral disbursements from state land, of which 75% goes to the state general fund;


  • Wyoming could experience cuts to the more than $1 billion received annually from federal royalties, a figure equivalent to thousands of dollars per state resident.


Taxpayer and citizen advocates (none of whom are represented on the RPC) have long argued that current royalty policies allow energy companies to undercompensate taxpayers when they transform public and split-estate lands into private mining sites.  In fact, just last year, the Government Accountability Office found that raising royalty rates would generate higher net returns to federal and state treasuries. Secretary Zinke seems determined to ignore these findings and instead turn policymaking over to companies with a clear financial self-interest and little regard for the American taxpayer.


Secretary Zinke created the RPC in March of 2017 with the stated intention of improving management of federal mineral resource management, but, despite the economic impact of the RPC’s work on every American, it has operated behind closed doors with little transparency. The RPC has also failed to follow legal requirements to safeguard the Council’s work from financial conflicts of interest and to provide a public interest justification — as opposed to a private benefit — for its work.


The suit requests a court order barring the Committee from continued operations, or, at a minimum, that the court require the Committee to operate in a lawful manner.


The suit was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Montana.



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