WASHINGTON, -- The administration of President George W. Bush relied exclusively on the advice of energy companies - many of which donated large sums of money to the Republican Party - in formulating its controversial energy strategy, according to government documents released this week.
Released just hours before a court-ordered deadline, the documents - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met more than 100 representatives of energy industry companies and corporate associations from January to May 2001. The meetings were related to the administration's energy task force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney which released its energy strategy last May.
Many of the representatives were among the most generous campaign contributors to Bush's election campaign and the Republican Party. Eighteen of the individuals and companies that met Abraham have contributed a total of more than 16 million dollars to the Republican party since 1999, according to the Washington-based Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-partisan group that tracks money in politics. That was nearly three times what the same companies gave to the Democratic Party.
The list of corporations and industry associations at the meetings reads like a Who's Who of oil, gas and coal interests. Among them were Enron, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Edison Electric Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
The documents show that Abraham did not meet any representatives of environmental or consumer advocacy groups. A coalition of nearly 30 environmental groups asked to meet the energy secretary in February to discuss energy policy, but officials declined the request citing Abraham's busy schedule.
The documents bolster arguments made by environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers - chiefly, Representatives Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan - who said they believed the task force was biased toward the oil industry. Dingell argued that the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires that meetings of non-governmental advisers be conducted in public to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
"The documents indicate that great deference was given to energy industry executives and lobbyists and almost none was given to [environmental groups] and the concerns of consumer groups," said Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch, a legal watchdog group and one of several advocacy organizations that sued for the release of documents.
Cheney and President George W. Bush had refused repeated requests since April 2001 to hand over any documents relating to the task force.
As the documents were released this week, Abraham said that the administration's national energy policy was balanced. The plan includes the construction of 1,300 coal-fired power plants; increased oil exploration, including in pristine and protected areas; and reduced environmental regulations for the energy industry.
"The information released today will only further confirm that it was indeed a balanced plan that not only sought but included all viewpoints," said Abraham. "It assures the American people that it was an open and appropriate process."
Of the 25 policy recommendations submitted by the American Petroleum Institute, for example, the final energy plan only included four, said a media release from the Energy Department.
The released documents include papers by industry representatives on a number of environmental policies, including fuel consumption and air pollution.
The Energy Department noted that the National Mining Association requested changes to provisions in the Clean Air Act that require power plants, oil refineries, and other industrial plants to meet new emissions standards. Bush's energy strategy calls for an overhaul of the provisions, a move that has sparked a debate between the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Public interest groups that sued to get the documents released said that not all the information related to the meetings was released. Judicial Watch and the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) an environmental group, said they would press for the full release of the records.
"There is a lot missing," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney at the New York-based NRDC. Large portions had been deleted from the documents, most attachments were missing and in many cases documents were withheld except for the subject line, she said. Thousands of other documents were withheld entirely.
Judicial Watch said about 15,000 documents from the Energy Department were missing, along with another 10,000 from the EPA. None of the requested documents from the Department of Treasury or the Department of Commerce were released, it added.
The administration has argued it has the right to keep the documents secret to preserve the confidentiality of White House meetings with non-governmental experts. Bush has vowed to fight several requests for details about the task force meetings.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) the investigative arm of the Congress, has filed its own lawsuit against the administration to force the release of any documents relating to the task force.
"The information we are seeking is clearly within our statutory audit and access authority,'' said David M. Walker, comptroller general of the accounting office.
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