Conservationists Allege Zinke’s US Energy Panel Stacked with Industry Supporters

US energy panel

On Tuesday, a conservation group filed a lawsuit, claiming that a Trump administration committee is stacked with industry supporters, who conduct some meetings confidentially. This committee reviews royalties that the companies pay on fossil fuels extracted from public lands.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils has urged a federal judge in Montana, to cease the functioning of Royalty Policy Committee of the US Interior Department, and knock down its recommendations.

Last year, the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, established a 20-person panel, which included representatives from state government, industry, tribes and academia.

The panel is presumed to discover ways for removing barriers to drilling and mining, along with ensuring taxpayers aren’t misguided by energy companies. In April, Zinke rejected the recommendation of the committee to lower royalty rates for offshore.

Critics allege the panel of making one-sided recommendations, which were favouring industry and weakening environmental protections. These recommendation include– calls to accelerate approvals for new drilling, speed up oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic, and allow coal companies to primarily self-determine the value of fuel they sell on the export market.

Steve Charter, a rancher from Roundup, Montana and board member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, said, ““It’s basically the fox guarding the hen house.”

“That committee is supposed to be representing all interests, but it’s been pretty much totally stacked with industry and some Western states with a real strong development bias,” he added.

Since September 2017, the royalty committee has held at least four public meetings. The lawsuit has alleged that subcommittees from the panel have met without releasing any public notice, in order to craft their recommendations privately.

Heather Swift, Zinke’s spokeswoman declined to directly comment on lawsuit, and said that it was “inaccurate” to put forward that the committee was dominated by industry.

She said, “It’s not even a majority industry. Further, for the first time ever the committee includes representatives from renewable energy.”

The six primary members come from the energy industry and six belong to energy-producing states, including Texas, Wyoming and Alaska. Out of the remaining, four represent American-Indian reservations with noteworthy fossil fuel reserves, while four are from universities and the firm Wood Mackenzie, which does consulting and research for the US energy panel and mining industries

Mark Squillace, professor at University of Colorado Law School, said, “This committee does not seem willing to acknowledge the importance of maximizing federal revenue from mineral properties.”

For years, Squillace was pushed to re-examine royalty rates of federal energy, and sought to serve on the committee. However, he was rejected by Zinke.

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