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US judge blocks Interior Department from using royalty committee advice

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy blocked the Department of the Interior from relying on advice from a royalty committee that it formed to advise on energy and mineral resource leasing policies on public lands.

The Interior Department is reviewing the decision, a spokesperson said in an email.

The controversial Royalty Policy Committee, struck under former Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, made recommendations on various matters, including royalty policies, and has since been disbanded.

In an Aug. 13 ruling, Molloy said the "establishment and operation of the royalty committee presents a concerning case study in the regulation of advisory committees and their role in government."

He said the Western Organization of Resource Councils, which filed the case along with Democracy Forward, "identified a gaping hole in government accountability."

The Western Organization of Resource Councils argued that the committee was not fairly balanced, according to Molloy's judgment. Critics of the committee have charged that its membership was lopsided in favor of industry supporters.

"Federal law protects the public from this kind of corrupt policy making," Democracy Forward litigation director Javier Guzman said in a prepared statement.