n NRDC lawsuit has cracked open the wall of silence surrounding Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. When the vice president put together the nation's energy plan last year -- and it is overwhelmingly a plan to subsidize more coal, more oil, and more nuclear power -- he kept the names of the people he met with secret. That secrecy was deeply wrong. The vice president is a public servant. To try to hide this information from the American people, as if we had no right to know who is shaping our public energy policies, maims our democracy.
NRDC sued for the task force records of the Department of Energy. Ours was one of four lawsuits brought to force the White House into the open, and the first to win. In late February, a federal judge ruled in our favor: The Energy Department must release its records to the public this spring.
In NRDC's thirty years, this is one of the finest things we have done. We didn't do it out of partisan politics, and we didn't do it because of the Enron scandal (we first asked for the records back in April 2001). We did it because open government is fundamental to environmental protection. Are we going to achieve energy independence? Are we going to protect our atmosphere? Or are we going to allow our public energy decisions to be made by the coal, oil, and automobile companies? Unless environmentalists fight to keep public officials accountable -- those in the White House and Congress, Democrats and Republicans -- corporate political access will determine our future.
That is happening right now in one of the major areas where the energy task force made the wrong choice.
The White House plan calls for coal, coal, and more coal. But coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. Pollution from outdated coal-fired power plants causes more than 30,000 premature deaths every year. Why is this legal? Because these older plants have a special exemption from clean air rules that lets them put out far more pollution than any other plant. The rules do say that if a plant upgrades in a way that will produce significantly more pollution, it must also upgrade to meet modern pollution limits. Yet today even this modest environmental requirement, called "new source review," is under attack. The coal and power plant lobbyists want their plants exempted forever. And the administration is on the verge of handing them that gift.
NRDC calls on President Bush and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman not to weaken the new source review program. And we will stand by our commitment to open government. We will shine a light on corporate influence wherever it occurs. We will not allow environmental policy to be made in secret.
John H. Adams