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.
The development of a new energy policy was Bush's first major initiative after he took office. He turned over responsibility of it to Cheney, a former chairman of Halliburton Co., a Dallas-based energy services firm.
Mindful of the disastrous fate that befell Hillary Rodham Clinton's unwieldy health-care task force, which included about 500 staff members and 34 working groups, Cheney kept his energy task force small and lean. Instead of a 1,300-page report, he aimed for something much shorter: The final product was 170 pages.
From the beginning, it was clear that Cheney was running the show, chairing meetings of the task force -- made up of about a dozen Cabinet officers and senior officials -- in his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Much of the task force's work was done by a six-person staff, led by its executive director, Andrew D. Lundquist, a former aide to Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski of Alaska. In 2000, Lundquist was the Bush campaign's energy expert; Bush nicknamed him "Light Bulb."
Today, Lundquist is a lobbyist, and he has represented some of the companies who appeared before the task force, such as BP, Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute. He did not return phone calls for this article.
Back in 2001, Lundquist was the person to see, and the document suggests that he and his colleagues consulted widely with energy company executives and their lobbyists. That was especially true in the early stages of the project, which focused heavily on how to stimulate domestic oil drilling, promote nuclear power and coal, and respond to the Western electricity crisis, which had caused soaring rates and blackouts in California.
Jack N. Gerard, then with the National Mining Association, had a meeting with Lundquist and other staffers in February. He urged the administration to give the Energy Department responsibility for promoting technology for easing global warming and to keep the issue away from the Environmental Protection Agency, which could issue regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The administration adopted that position.
Another visitor in March was Eli Bebout, an old friend of Cheney's from Wyoming who serves in the state Senate and owns an oil and drilling company. Bebout said he presented a report to Cheney's staff on behalf of a group of Western state officials recommending increased drilling, use of nuclear power and attention to renewable resources. Bebout said he had been scheduled to meet with Cheney but the vice president was ill.
One advocacy group that visited was the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by Grover Norquist and Gale A. Norton, who became Bush's first interior secretary. Later, the group was run by Italia Federici, who was involved socially with Steven Griles. Griles, then Norton's deputy at Interior, was recently sentenced to prison for obstructing a Senate investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, also met with Lundquist, the document shows. Cavaney said they discussed position papers that the API had given to both presidential campaigns and to new members of Congress.
"We're in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials," Cavaney said. "Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything."
But the API did seem to have influence with the administration, according to a document obtained by the National Resources Defense Council.
Jim Ford of the API sent Joseph T. Kelliher, then an Energy Department official and now chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, copies of the API's well-known positions, along with a "suggested executive order to ensure that energy implications are considered and acted on in rulemakings and executive actions."
Ford's memo was dated March 20, 2001. In May that year, Bush issued an executive order similar to API's proposal.
Cheney appears to have played a more behind-the-scenes role in the task force's deliberations, the document indicates, listing only a handful of meetings with the vice president. Those included a previously reported meeting with Lay, who died last year; a meeting with officials from Sandia National Laboratories to discuss their economic models of the energy industry; and two sets of meetings with lawmakers. Cheney had other meetings, such as with John Browne, then the chief executive of BP, that were not listed on the task force's calendar.
The vice president also met with energy experts he had known, such as J. Robinson West, chairman of the Washington-based consulting firm PFC Energy and an old friend of Cheney's.
Those who met with Cheney said he was intensely interested in waning U.S. energy supplies, even though prices of oil and natural gas were much lower than they are today.
West agreed, and still agrees, with Cheney about opening up more areas in the United States and offshore for oil drilling, but he said he thinks the administration ended up not doing enough to dampen energy demand. West said he also urged in vain that the administration pursue a cap-and-trade system that would include China and India in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"I don't agree with the administration on a number of issues," said West, who gave a memo to Cheney with his views. "But this issue of Cheney being a stooge of the oil industry . . . there's nothing there."
Cheney and Lundquist also met with Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of "The Prize," a history of the oil industry. Yergin recalls discussing energy efficiency and natural gas data, which were then showing that increased drilling had for the first time not raised U.S. production.
The task force issued its report on May 16, 2001. Though the report was roundly criticized by environmental groups at the time, some energy experts say that in retrospect it appears better balanced than the administration's actual policy.
Divided into eight chapters, the report correctly forecast higher energy prices, stressed energy efficiency and conservation, and pushed for boosting domestic conventional energy supplies and increasing use of renewable energy. Although it advocated wider drilling and omitted climate-change measures, it also said that "using energy more wisely" was the nation's "first challenge."
Some key proposals, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, have never won congressional approval, but some measures to encourage oil and gas production, coal output, and the development of biofuels and nuclear power have been included in Bush's budgets and in the 2005 energy bill.
"Cheney had his finger on a critical issue," said David G. Hawkins, a climate expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "He just pushed it in the wrong direction."
Staff writer Rachel Dry contributed to this report.