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US: Energy Task Force Documents Show Industry Influence

by Cat LazaroffEnvironment News Service
May 22nd, 2002

Vice President Richard Cheney's energy task force met with industry representatives 25 times for every one contact with conservation and public interest groups, shows a review by the group whose lawsuit prompted the release of thousands of Energy Department documents. The review was released the same day that the energy agency delivered another 1,500 pages of previously withheld task force information.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has now been provided more than 13,000 pages of documents by the Energy Department (DOE) after winning a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The DOE was the lead agency working with the Cheney task force, called the National Energy Policy Development Group, which was commissioned by President George W. Bush in January 2001 to develop a national energy policy.

During the course of its operation, the energy task force received input from hundreds of corporations, organizations and individuals. After searching the DOE documents for evidence of task force contacts with outside groups, the NRDC says that energy industry lobbyists enjoyed extraordinary access to the panel.

The data shows that industry representatives had 714 direct contacts between January 2001 and September 2001, while non-industry representatives had only 29. The NRDC could not definitively categorize another 105 direct contacts.

"A year ago the Cheney task force issued recommendations that read like a wish list for energy companies," said NRDC senior attorney Sharon Buccino. "When it came to developing the administration's environmentally and fiscally reckless energy policy, it was all industry all the time."

The representatives tallying the most direct contacts with the energy task force were from some of the nation's largest and most influential energy companies and trade associations -- industries that stood to benefit from the president's policies to boost domestic energy production. Some of them also are major donors to President Bush and Republican congressional candidates.

For example, the Nuclear Energy Institute had contact with the task force 19 times. This group contributed $437,404 to Republican candidates and the Republican Party from 1999 to 2002. Energy giant Southern Company, a group that contributed $1,626,507 to Republican candidates and the GOP from 1999 to 2002, had contact with the task force seven times.

For the purpose of NRDC's analysis, meetings, phone calls, letters, memos or email communication with the task force was classified as direct contacts. The conservation group excluded indirect contacts, such as reports, press releases, hearing statements and information obtained from websites -- the avenues by which the task force has admitted to gathering most of its input from environmental organizations.

Based on these criteria, Exelon Corporation, a utility and energy company, had contact with the task force six times, and has contributed $910,886 to Republican candidates and the GOP from 1999 to 2002. The Edison Electric Institute, which contributed $598,169 to Republican candidates and the GOP from 1999 to 2002, had contact with the task force 14 times.

The National Mining Association had contact with the task force nine times, and has contributed $575,496 to Republican candidates and the GOP from 1999 to 2002. The American Gas Association had contact with the task force eight times, and has contributed $480,478 to Republican candidates and the GOP over that period.

Perhaps most damning, the now defunct Enron Corporation had contact with the task force four times, in addition to the six times that Vice President Cheney has reported meeting with company officials. Enron contributed $2,480,056 to Republican candidates and the GOP from 1999 to 2002.

The NRDC points out that these contacts represent only were ones in which Energy Department staff participated. Other direct contacts with the energy task force, for example through the vice president's office, are not included in these tallies because the Bush administration has refused to release that information.

The NRDC review defined industry contacts to include companies, trade associations, and law and consulting firms representing energy interests. NRDC did not distinguish the type of industry, so its numbers for the energy industry includes a handful of alternative energy groups.

Likewise, the non-industry category includes think tanks that the NRDC claims are heavily financed by energy interests. The unknown category represents entities that NRDC was unable to identify or categorize.

Today, after quickly reviewing about 1,500 additional documents that the DOE delivered to the NRDC on Tuesday, the conservation group said it has uncovered evidence showing the Bush administration adopted several energy policies requested by Chevron Corporation. The company provided several recommendations, ranging from easing federal permitting rules for energy projects to relaxing standards fuel supply requirements, versions of which were ultimately included in the president's national energy plan.

For example, Chevron CEO David O'Reilly recommended that the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) "charge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to identify and address federal barriers to permitting energy projects."

The task force then recommended that "the President issue an Executive Order to rationalize permitting for energy production in an environmentally sound manner by directing federal agencies to expedite permits and other federal actions necessary for energy related project approvals on a national basis."

"The administration has unlawfully delayed the release of some of the most embarrassing evidence of industry involvement in the Bush energy plan," said Buccino, noting that Tuesday's delivery came 41 days after a court ordered deadline for the DOE to release the information.

Other documents released Tuesday reveal involvement by the National Mining Association, the National Petroleum & Refiners Association, General Motors and other major industries in the development of the Bush energy plan, the NRDC says.

On March 1, 2001, energy lobbyist Haley Barbour, former head of the Republican Party, sent Cheney a memo arguing against federal regulation of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

"A moment of truth is arriving in the form of a decision whether this administration's policy will be to regulate and/or tax CO2 as a pollutant," Barbour wrote. "The question is whether environmental policy still prevails over energy policy with Bush-Cheney, as it did with Clinton-Gore."

On March 13, 2001, President Bush announced that he would not seek to cap CO2 emissions from power plants.

On March 16, 2001, former Senator Jack Kemp sent Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham a letter on behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has been linked with energy industry groups. Kemp's letter lauded the administration for the way it handled the CO2 issue and credited the Competitive Enterprise Institute for "giving the president intellectual support and political cover to 'do the right thing.'"

In return, Kemp asked Abraham to attend the group's annual fundraising dinner two months later. Abraham spoke at the dinner, promoted the administration's energy plan and thanked CEI for its "good work."

Also on March 16, Jane Hughes Turnbull, a member of the National Coal Council, wrote to Abraham to announce her resignation from the Council, calling the president's decision not to regulate CO2 emissions "profoundly shortsighted [and] an obvious and expedient response to industry interests."

"Pressure from the National Coal Council contributed to this decision," Turnbull wrote, noting that the council's "leadership was intent on bolstering the economic well being of the industry, if need be at the expense of the environment."

"The coal industry and an industry front group appear to be dictating our nation's energy future," said NRDC's Buccino. "The administration's policy may signal a glowing future for big energy companies but it's a bleak one for the environment and public health."

The NRDC will return to court on Thursday to seek additional task force documents from the DOE and the Department of Interior. That same day, the Sierra Club will be in court for the first hearing in the group's lawsuit seeking records from Vice President Cheney's office and other task force entities under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

The Sierra Club suit has been consolidated with a similar suit filed by Judicial Watch. Tomorrow the court will consider the U.S. government's motions to dismiss both lawsuits.

"When the Bush Administration wrote its energy policy, big oil and energy companies were given the red carpet treatment, but the public was shut out of the process," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Americans deserve to know what happened behind those closed doors, and the law requires it."

More information, including a list of the DOE's outside contacts related to the task force, is available at: http://www.nrdc.org. To review political campaign contributions from the energy sector, visit the Center for Responsive Politics' website at:
http://www.opensecrets.org/new/energy_task_force/index.asp





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