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NRDC Asks Court To Force Immediate Release Of Secret Energy Task Force Details
Department of Energy Has Stonewalled for Nine Months
WASHINGTON (January 30, 2002) -- The battle over Vice President Cheney's secret energy task force continued today when NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) asked a federal court to order the Energy Department to hand over requested documents within 10 days. NRDC had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request nine months ago seeking the names of individuals, companies and groups that helped develop the administration's energy policy, but the Energy Department has not complied.
Today's motion was filed at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
"The vice president's task force proposed a policy that would benefit big energy companies while doing nothing to promote true energy independence," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney at NRDC. "Americans have a right to know who wrote this policy. Besides what we know about Enron's influence, we don't know the most basic information about the energy industry lobbyists who helped draft the task force recommendations." The task force, she added, proposed billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to oil, coal and nuclear industries, which contributed millions to the Bush presidential campaign.
NRDC filed its FOIA request in April 2001, but the Energy Department -- a lead federal agency working with the task force -- has ignored the request. After waiting eight months, NRDC filed a lawsuit in December to get the documents. On January 23, the agency denied it had refused to disclose names of task force participants, but declined to provide that very information.
NRDC is seeking the same information as the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The two suits, however, involve separate legal claims. NRDC sued under the Freedom of the Information Act; GAO is suing under its own statutory authority. In response to GAO's claim, the vice president has suggested that information about the task force's secret meetings is protected from congressional oversight by executive privilege. In rebuffing NRDC's suit, however, the Energy Department did not claim executive privilege. In fact, it provided no legal justification for withholding the information.
Last Sunday, Vice President Cheney appeared on talk shows to argue his case for keeping task force information confidential. On CNN he defended his right to meet secretly with outside advisers to make national energy policy.
"The vice president provided an impassioned defense of imperial government," said Buccino. "But America is a democracy. The public has a right to know who's responsible for an energy plan that reads like a wish list for corporate polluters, even if it is embarrassing to those in power. Today, NRDC asked a federal court to declare that the administration cannot ignore the law simply because it would prefer not to follow it."
NRDC is represented in this case by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Related NRDC Pages
January 24, 2002, "Administration Snubs Lawsuit Seeking Facts On Secret Energy Task Force"
December 12, 2001, "NRDC Sues Department of Energy to Expose Cheney Task Force Secrets"
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