The first meeting of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s handpicked Royalty Policy Committee will be held tomorrow. The Royalty Policy Committee is tasked with setting royalty rates for mining and drilling on federal lands. Research conducted by the Western Values Project (WVP) found that the committee is dominated by industry representatives and Zinke’s friends and campaign donors. Read more about the background and profiles of each member at https://departmentofinfluence.org/sub-department/royalty-policy-committee/.
“This committee, charged with setting the price for drilling and mining on our public lands, is stacked full of special interests and Zinke’s campaign allies. Oil and gas lobbyists are already running the show at Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department, the last thing they need is another seat at the table,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.
Some of the worst offenders include:
- Randall Luthi ran the Minerals Management Service for the Bush administration. During his tenure, the department was involved in multiple ethics scandals, including employees accepting “gifts from the oil and gas companies they were regulating” and MMS workers having “‘brief sexual relationships’ with industry contacts.” Luthi also co-signed the “environmental review” that allowed BP to drill at the Mississippi Canyon Block 252, the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Additionally, Luthi became president of the National Ocean Industries Association, the offshore drilling industry group, just weeks before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened.
- From 1998 to 2008, Daniel Rusz, who is one of the primary members of the Royalty Policy Committee, was the Director of Sales Finance for coal company Massey Energy. In 2010, just after Rusz left, Massey was responsible for the “worst mining disaster in the United States in 40 years” when an explosion at one of Massey’s mines killed 29 people.
- All four of the state representatives on the Royalty Policy Committee who currently hold elected office have accepted campaign contributions from extractive industries. Drew Darby has taken in over $115,000 in campaign contributions from extractive industries; Brent Sanford has accepted $99,280 in campaign contributions from extractive industries; Dan Saddler has accepted at least $5,450 from extractive industries; and Hans Hunt has accepted at least $2,200 from extractive industries.
- Royalty Policy Committee member Matthew Adams is Vice President of Tax for Cloud Peak Energy, which coincidentally was a major Zinke campaign donor and one of the coal companies Zinke helped while he was in Congress.
- Of the six members on the committee representing “Academia and Public Interest Groups,” four members have ties to industry. Daniel Rusz currently works at a “mining industry research firm,” Kwame Awuah-Offei runs his own consulting firm that works with mining companies, Graham Davis “consults in mine and project valuation for several large mining companies” and works as an “academic advisor” for consulting company the Brattle Group, and Roderick Eggert, while he doesn’t appear to work for companies directly, has criticized the mineral resources permitting process and speaks at National Mining Association events.
Even though the charter of the committee recommends “up to four members representing academia and public interest groups,” Zinke chose not to appoint a single taxpayer advocate to the committee.
In some of his first acts as Secretary, Zinke gave sweetheart deals to his special interest friends. Zinke stopped efforts to close a royalty loophole for fossil fuel companies, allowing them to continue to skirt taxes to the tune of at least $75 million per year and lowered the off-shore drilling royalty rate from 18.75 percent to 12.5 percent. He also recently approved the extension of a reduced royalty rate for his former campaign contributor Ach Coal’s Elk Mine in Colorado.
Secretary Zinke has cited low revenues to justify the devastating budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, including eliminating 4,000 employees and an 85 percent reduction in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), even as he continues to lower royalty rates and allow corporations to take advantage of loopholes. Despite the budget crunch, Zinke justified spending $12,000 to fly a chartered plane from a motivational speech given on behalf of a top donor in Nevada to his home state of Montana.