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Trump Administration Abandons Controversial Oil And Gas Advisory Committee

Photo of abandonned oil pump. / andrepra
The 38-person Royalty Policy Committee consisted of tribal officials, state representatives, energy insiders and academics. But environmental protection groups accused it of holding some meetings in secret.

A controversial oil and gas advisory committee has been disbanded by the Trump administration, according to an interior department spokesperson.

The Royalty Policy Committee (RPC), reinstated by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017, was charged with making sure taxpayers were getting the most bang for their buck when the federal government sold oil, gas and coal from public lands and offshore sites.

But environmental protection groups filed suit last year arguing the advisory committee was stacked with pro-energy extraction officials and that it held some meetings in secret.

“Standards of diversity and transparency were not met,” said Barbara Vasquez, a member of the Western Colorado Alliance, an environmental grassroots organization. “That’s why the lawsuit was enjoined.”

In January, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled the agency needed to ensure advisory committee meetings were open to the public.

The Interior Department did not explain why the RPC has been disbanded, but said that the group’s charter expired on April 21 and has not been renewed. The 38-member advisory committee was composed of industry insiders, state officials, tribal representatives and academics.

“There’s a lot more we can do,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance and an alternate member of the RPC.

Advisory committee members have not been told whether it will be revived, according to Sgamma, but she posits that either Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is in the midst of making that decision or that he has decided the RPC has fulfilled its duties.

“[Maybe] he’s decided that the RPC has run its course for now and that Interior will focus on implementing the recommendations that have already been made by the committee,” she said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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