NRDC Again Prevails in Forcing Bush Administration to Reveal Cheney Task Force Secrets
WASHINGTON (April 1, 2004) - Rejecting the Bush administration's latest effort to hide Cheney energy task force deliberations from the public, U.S. District Court Judge Paul F. Friedman issued a ruling last night forcing the administration to make public the records of the task force's executive director and other federal agency employees responsible for the task force's day-to-day operations.
The Department of Energy (DOE) had refused to provide these records in response to a 2001 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), arguing that federal agency employees were assigned to the Office of the Vice President, and therefore their records could be kept secret. Judge Friedman dismissed that argument, finding that "citizens' right to know 'what their government is up to,' . . . cannot be defeated by detailing an agency employee to a task force operating out of the White House or some other non-agency."
"The court's ruling is a wake-up call to the Bush administration: It's time to come clean about how it is doing the public's business," said NRDC Senior Attorney Sharon Buccino. "Once Congress and the American people finally get the details about what happened at the task force's closed-door meetings, the administration's energy plan will be revealed for what it is -- a payback to corporate polluters."
NRDC has been trying for three years to obtain these critical records, which likely will reveal the extent to which the task force staff met secretly with industry executives to develop energy policy recommendations -- such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and weakening power plant pollution regulations. While previous court orders forced the administration to release records of the federal agencies that had participated in the task force's work, the administration has steadfastly refused to release the records of the task force's executive director, Andrew Lundquist, and other federal agency employees who worked under him.
Besides revealing who shaped the administration's energy plan, these records should shed further light on whether the task force violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act. That case is currently pending before the Supreme Court and scheduled for oral argument later this month.
NRDC was represented in the case by Sharon Buccino and Jon Devine of NRDC, and Howard Crystal and Eric Glitzenstein of the Washington, D.C., public interest law firm Meyer & Glitzenstein.
A copy of Judge Friedman's 90-page opinion is available from upon request from NRDC.