Papers Detail Industry's Role in Cheney's Energy Report

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By Michael Abramowitz and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At 10 a.m. on April 4, 2001, representatives of 13 environmental groups were brought into the Old Executive Office Building for a long-anticipated meeting. Since late January, a task force headed by Vice President Cheney had been busy drawing up a new national energy policy, and the groups were getting their one chance to be heard.

Cheney was not there, but so many environmentalists were in the room that introductions took up "about half the meeting," recalled Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth. Anna Aurilio of the U.S. Public Interest Group said, "It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us."

A confidential list prepared by the Bush administration shows that Cheney and his aides had already held at least 40 meetings with interest groups, most of them from energy-producing industries. By the time of the meeting with environmental groups, according to a former White House official who provided the list to The Washington Post, the initial draft of the task force was substantially complete and President Bush had been briefed on its progress.

In all, about 300 groups and individuals met with staff members of the energy task force, including a handful who saw Cheney himself, according to the list, which was compiled in the summer of 2001. For six years, those names have been a closely guarded secret, thanks to a fierce legal battle waged by the White House. Some names have leaked out over the years, but most have remained hidden because of a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that agreed that the administration's internal deliberations ought to be shielded from outside scrutiny.

One of the first visitors, on Feb. 14, was James J. Rouse, then vice president of Exxon Mobil and a major donor to the Bush inauguration; a week later, longtime Bush supporter Kenneth L. Lay, then head of Enron Corp., came by for the first of two meetings. On March 5, some of the country's biggest electric utilities, including Duke Energy and Constellation Energy Group, had an audience with the task force staff.

British Petroleum representatives dropped by on March 22, one of about 20 oil and drilling companies to get meetings. The National Mining Association, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and the American Petroleum Institute were among three dozen trade associations that met with Cheney's staff, the document shows.

The list of participants' names and when they met with administration officials provides a clearer picture of the task force's priorities and bolsters previous reports that the review leaned heavily on oil and gas companies and on trade groups -- many of them big contributors to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party. But while it clears up much of the lingering uncertainty about who was granted access to present energy policy views to Cheney's staff, it does not entirely explain why the Bush administration fought so hard to keep it and other as-yet-unreleased internal memos secret.

Contacted over the past week, several people who met with the task force's staff described their meetings as part of a normal "interagency" review of major domestic policy and expressed bewilderment that the White House and Cheney labored to keep the deliberations out of the public eye.

"I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret," said Charles A. Samuels, outside counsel to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, which participated in a March 13 meeting to discuss the idea of tax credits for super-efficient appliances. "I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings -- exactly what should take place."

Provided a copy of the list, Cheney's office said he would not comment on it. "The vice president has respectfully but resolutely maintained the importance of protecting the ability of the president and vice president to receive candid advice on important national policy matters in confidence, a principle affirmed by the Supreme Court," spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said by e-mail.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who unsuccessfully pushed for details of the meetings, said it is "ridiculous" that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He described the energy task force as an early indicator of "how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act."

Waxman said he was not surprised to see the prevalence of energy industry groups on the list of meetings. "Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet," he said.


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