WASHINGTON, DC (September 16, 2004) - A verbal scuffle erupted in Congress yesterday when Republicans on a House committee blocked a Democratic attempt to shed light on the workings of a secretive energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. On a party line vote, the House Energy & Commerce Committee voted to kill a resolution of inquiry seeking the names of individuals who worked behind closed doors with Vice President Cheney's energy task force to craft the Bush administration's national energy policy.
All 30 Republican members at the committee hearing voted against the resolution while all 22 Democratic members voiced support for the inquiry. The hearing overheated -- degenerating into what one member called a "political circus" -- after Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-Texas) refused even to allow debate on the issue. Democrats shouted, "Shame!" and some even walked out in protest.
"It shouldn't take an act of Congress to force the White House to share information with the public about the public's business," said Karen Wayland, NRDC's legislative director. "The White House's dirty secrets about Vice President Cheney's energy task force are not sensitive security information, but rather information critical to the national debate on energy policy. Citizens have a right to know about how decisions were made on policies that affect our quality of life, our natural heritage and America's energy security."
Apparently, Republicans on the House Energy & Commerce Committee disagree. Those who voted against the resolution include: Arizona Rep. John Shadegg; California Reps. Mary Bono, Christopher Cox, Darrell Issa and George Radanovich; Florida Rep. Michael Bilirakis; Georgia Reps. Nathan Deal and Charles Norwood; Idaho Rep. C.L. Otter; Illinois Rep. John Shimkus; Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer; Kentucky Rep. Edward Whitfield; Michigan Reps. Michael Rogers and Fred Upton; Mississippi Rep. Charles Pickering, Jr.; Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry; New Hampshire Rep. Charles Bass; New Jersey Rep. Michael Ferguson; New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson; New York Rep. Vito Fossella; North Carolina Rep. Richard Burr; Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor; Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan; Oregon Rep. Greg Waldon; Pennsylvania Reps. Jim Greenwood and Joseph Pitts; Texas Reps. Joe Barton and Ralph Hall; Florida Reps. and Cliff Stearns; and Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin.
NRDC and other groups have been trying to unveil the inner workings of the closed-door National Energy Policy Development Group since that task force issued its policy recommendations in May 2001. The controversial energy plan -- derided by critics as polluter-friendly and subsidy-laden -- is the core of the energy bill now stalled in the Senate. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Vice President Cheney does not have to disclose information about the meetings until a lower court reviews the case. In another case, NRDC successfully forced the Energy Department to reveal thousands of documents, showing that oil, gas, nuclear and coal industry lobbyists exerted undue influence on the administration's energy policy. But the agency continues to stonewall on releasing other key records about industry's involvement in the task force.