NRDC Questions Legality of Secret Dealings; Files FOIA Request with Energy Department
WASHINGTON (December 18, 2003) - What happens when oil, gas, mining and nuclear lobbyists meet behind closed doors with high-level Energy Department officials to discuss the energy bill that stalled in Congress? That is what NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) intends to find out. Today NRDC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking records relating to efforts by Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and other agency officials to coordinate a grassroots lobbying strategy with energy companies to secure passage of energy legislation. Such coordination may violate federal criminal law, according to NRDC.
"Secrecy is job one in the Bush administration, especially concerning energy policy," said NRDC senior attorney Sharon Buccino. "We're trying to pull back the curtain on the latest secret and potentially unlawful dealings between high-level Bush officials and energy lobbyists."
Specifically, NRDC has asked the Energy Department to provide any handwritten, typed, or electronic notes in the agency's possession, including but not limited to correspondence, minutes of meetings, memoranda, notes, e-mails, calendar or daily entries, agendas, notices, and faxes.
NRDC's FOIA request follows a report by the National Journal ("Lobbyists Ready Blitz for Energy Bill," Dec. 13, 2003) that "the American Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and other trade groups belonging to the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth are readying a grassroots blitz in six states aimed at picking up Senate backers for the energy bill." The story goes on to say that lobbyists from these groups met in early December with McSlarrow to discuss ways to "gin up votes for the bill," which Republicans have vowed to revive next year when Congress reconvenes. "At the meeting," the National Journal reports, "department officials stressed that they want to work with lobbyists to 'put pressure' on lawmakers" to vote for the legislation.
McSlarrow, it should be noted, formerly served as an Energy Department participant on Vice President Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group. That energy task force's secret consultations formed the basis for an energy bill with billions in giveaways -- in the form of tax incentives and federal subsidies -- to the energy industry, which the White House's legislative allies unsuccessfully tried to jam through Congress last month.
Federal law makes it a crime "to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress... to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation." (18 U.S.C. sec 1913) Moreover, the Justice Department's (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel, in an advisory opinion issued during the first Bush administration, stated that the statute was meant "to restrict the use of appropriated funds for large-scale, high-expenditure campaigns specifically urging private recipients to contact Members of Congress about pending legislative matters on behalf of an Administrative position." (13 U.S. Op. Off. Legal Counsel 300 (1989)) In that same opinion, DOJ also said the law was intended to "prohibit the Executive from using appropriated funds to create artificially the impression that there is a ground swell of public support for the Executive's position on a given piece of legislation."
"If not illegal, it's certainly unseemly for the Bush administration to secretly scheme with corporate lobbyists to pass a bill that is little more than a huge payback to energy producers and polluters," added Buccino. "The energy industry has kicked in millions to President Bush's campaign coffers. Perhaps that's why $23 billion of the energy bill's more than $25 billion dollars in tax breaks go to coal, oil, gas and nuclear power companies."
The National Journal article referenced above, which was written by Peter H. Stone, appeared in Volume 50, on page 3757, under the section: "From the K Street Corridor." A PDF version of the full article is available upon request.
A copy of NRDC's FOIA request letter is also available upon request.
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 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Related NRDC Pages
The Cheney Energy Task Force