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Conservation Group Sues Over Fossil Fuel Royalties Committee

A Coal Mine in the Powder River basin.
U.S. Geological Survey
A Coal Mine in the Powder River basin.

A Billings-based conservation group filed a lawsuit Tuesday over a Trump administration committee reviewing royalty payments on fossil fuels from public lands.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils claims the Royalty Policy Committee is stacked with industry supporters who conduct some meetings in secret. It’s asking a federal judge to disband the committee and throw out its recommendations.

Steve Charter is a Councils board member. He says the committee’s actions go against established rules.

“It’s very specifically lined out that there are supposed to be open meetings and it’s also lined out that it’s supposed to represent all interests, not just industry," Charter says. "And the way this committee has been conducting itself, we believe it’s in violation of all those things.”

The panel was established last year by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It's supposed to find ways to change rules that could slow drilling and mining, while making sure taxpayers aren't shortchanged by energy companies.

The lawsuit claims the committee is instead making one-sided recommendations that favor industry and weaken environmental protections.

Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift says it's inaccurate to suggest the committee is industry dominated. It includes renewable energy and state government representatives.

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