Court orders Trump administration to disregard energy industry-stacked Royalty Policy Committee recommendations.
On August 13, WORC’s lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s Royalty Policy Committee (RPC) received a favorable decision in federal court. The judge ruled that the Department of the Interior had ignored many of the requirements under the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) in setting up the committee. Because the committee was unlawful from the get-go, the court barred Interior bureaus from relying on any of the Committee’s recommendations to justify future rulemakings.
Our attorneys tell us this ruling is the first that has struck down an advisory committee on the procedural grounds we identified, and only the third time (and the first since 1980) a court has issued a use injunction (enjoining use of recommendations and materials developed by the committee) in a FACA dispute.
Because the committee was unlawful from the get-go, the court barred Interior bureaus from relying on any of the Committee’s recommendations to justify future rulemakings.
Two years ago, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke re-chartered the Royalty Policy Committee to advise the Interior Department on fossil fuel development and royalty issues. Zinke stacked the Committee with representatives of the fossil fuel industry and pro-development state officials, leaving out the voices of taxpayers and conservation groups entirely. The committee made many recommendations favoring the interests of the industries represented, such as speeding oil and gas leasing in the Arctic, hastening onshore drilling permit approval, and giving companies more flexibility to self-determine the value of publicly-owned minerals for the purpose of calculating and paying royalties. In previous rulings in the case, the judge had noted that Interior’s operation of the committee seemed designed to satisfy the minimum standards in the law while skirting its spirit.
A few things happened to the Royalty Policy Committee following the filing of our lawsuit. First, Ryan Zinke’s appointee to lead the Committee, Vincent DeVito, resigned to take a job at oil giant BP. Then in April, Secretary Zinke’s replacement, David Bernhardt, allowed the Committee’s charter to expire. This makes it clear that Bernhardt thinks he can advance a deregulatory agenda without even pretending to consult an advisory committee, stacked or otherwise. WORC and its groups will oppose rule rollbacks that we expect to continue. At the very least, the judge’s decision deprives Interior of white-washing its actions by relying on the recommendations of the Royalty Policy Committee.
Read more stories relating to coal issues here.
Help create a healthy and sustainable West. Support WORC today.