NRDC Going Back to Court to Demand Documents Energy Department Withheld Illegally
WASHINGTON (April 26, 2002) -- Late yesterday, the Department of Energy released to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) an index of withheld documents and another 400 pages of documents related to Vice President Cheney's energy task force. The 400 pages, which should have been released by April 10 according to a court order, provide further verification that the task force worked closely with energy industry representatives when writing its proposals. But NRDC officials are more concerned about material that the DOE is still withholding.
"The Energy Department is still stonewalling," said Sharon Buccino, an NRDC senior attorney. "While the administration continues to keep critical information secret, its energy plan is moving forward both on Capitol Hill and on the ground in the West." Energy exploration and production on public lands, she pointed out, have dramatically expanded over the past year.
NRDC plans to return to court next week to challenge the Energy Department's illegal effort to hide information from the public. In particular, NRDC is seeking records maintained by the task force's executive director, Andrew Lundquist, and other task force staff members who were employees of the Energy Department. NRDC originally filed its Freedom of Information Act request for all DOE material related to the task force in April 2001.
Following an NRDC lawsuit to force DOE to release documents, a federal judge ordered the agency to release the bulk of the material on March 25, the balance of the documents on April 10, and an index of withheld documents, called a Vaughn index, by April 25. The law requires that the index identify documents the agency withheld in whole or in part and provide a detailed legal justification for each of them. The index, which totals about 500 pages, is available on NRDC's website, at http://www.nrdc.org/air/energy/taskforce/pdf/doevaughn.pdf.
Among the 400 pages released yesterday, NRDC found the following material that buttresses its allegations that big energy companies "held the pen" for task force staff.
- A previously redacted March 18 - March 22, 2001, email exchange, in which a key Energy Department official, Joseph Kelliher, solicited advice from Dana Contratto, a natural gas industry lobbyist who was interested in building a pipeline in the Caspian. "If you were King, or Il Duce, what would you include in a national energy policy, especially with respect to natural gas issues?" Kelliher asked Contratto. The energy task force recommended that the Bush administration support development of a Caspian pipeline.
- A May 8, 2001, email from Elena Subia Melchert in the Office of the Vice President, in which she asked Dave Nevius of the North American Electric Reliability Council to check her facts regarding transmission capacity. She apparently was looking for a citation for a statement previously provided by industry lobbyists.
"Not only did industry hold the pen for the Bush administration when it wrote its energy policy, it apparently did its factchecking, too," said Buccino.
NRDC is represented 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.