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Behind Closed Doors - Cheney's Secret Energy Task Force
By Christine Simpson

Soon after his inauguration into the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney established a secret Energy Task Force. The purpose of this task force, the proceedings, and the key players involved has not been disclosed because of what Cheney claims to be "Executive Privilege." When the proposed Energy Act was revealed in 2003, experts were astounded by the many questionable policies the Act entailed, which included billions in tax breaks, government subsidies, and industry environmental deregulation that threatened public health. 1

In July of 2001, the public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, and the environmental group, Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit, requesting Cheney to release documents related to the task force and its deliberations. The National Resources Defense Council followed with its own lawsuit as well. Based on the Freedom of Information Act, the courts ordered Cheney to release these documents. The Bush administration released thousands of pages of documents in pretrial discovery, but refused to hand over documents that related specifically to Cheney and other White House advisors, claiming that turning over the documents would violate the separation of powers. 2

In reviewing the heavily censored documents that were released, the National Resources Defense Council contends that, the papers show that Industry is the real author of the Administrations Task Force Report. Sharon Buccino, an NRDC senior attorney explains, "These documents show how the White House task force turned coal and oil company wish lists directly into national policy while ignoring proven technologies that can help us meet our energy needs cleanly and reliably." 3

Some significant revelations NRDC lawyers unearthed from the heavily redacted documents:

  • A March 20, 2001 email from the American Petroleum Institute to an Energy Department official provided a draft Executive Order on energy. Two months later, President Bush issued Executive Order 13211, which is nearly identical in structure and impact to the API draft, and nearly verbatim in a key section.
  • In March 2001, a Southern Company lobbyist emailed a Department Of Energy official suggesting "another issue" for inclusion in the energy plan: so-called reform of the Clean Air Act and related enforcement actions. The suggestion was incorporated into the energy plan, launching the Administration's controversial effort to weaken the Clean Air Act and retreat from high-profile enforcement actions against the nation's largest polluters, including the Southern Company.3

The Energy Task Force and nine other related government agencies are still refusing to release key and specific documents. The government is currently appealing the case at the Supreme Court. A decision is expected to be made by June.4

But this has left us all with many unanswered questions. The government's refusal to make these documents public is both questionable and concerning. We are supposed to trust the government to act in our best interest, but we also have a right to question policy decisions and gain access to information relating to them. The Bush administration's insistence on keeping this information private is suspicious and suggests that they have something to hide. But what are they hiding? What are we NOT supposed to know about the energy policy?

If the documents undeniably prove that industries had a significant part in creating government policy, the consequences will be catastrophic. Industries have always lobbied for legislation in their favor, but as far as the public knows, our government has never actually given them the power to dictate public policy. If this were in fact the case, it would not only produce a shameless scandal of corruption, but it would also be a complete effrontery to our democratic system.

But if the courts decide in favor of the government in June and these documents are not released, it would leave many of us not only questioning the integrity of our government and the democratic process, but we would still be left wondering, WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?



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