Bush Administration Denies Public Access to Information on Industry Participants in Cheney Energy Task Force

WASHINGTON (May 10, 2001) - Federal officials have rejected a Freedom of Information Act request by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) to obtain information about individuals involved in formulating the Bush administration's soon-to-be-announced energy policy.

On April 26, NRDC submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Energy (DOE) and other agencies participating in Vice President Cheney's energy task force. Among other things, NRDC requested documents identifying the members of the task force and any working groups; and the calendars of the agency heads and any agency staff performing work related to the task force. On May 1, DOE denied NRDC's FOIA request for a fee waiver under FOIA. NRDC is entitled to a fee waiver because it intends to use the requested documents to educate the public about government activities and not for commercial purposes. DOE refused to process NRDC's request until NRDC provided an assurance it would pay a fee. The agency based its refusal on a claim that most, if not all, of the requested documents are "pre-decisional" and therefore not subject to public disclosure.

"It is highly unusual and suspect that the Energy Department would refuse to release documents identifying the outside special interests involved in the formulation of national policy," said NRDC Senior Attorney Sharon Buccino, who filed the FOIA request.

Buccino noted that the "pre-decisional" exception to FOIA is extremely narrow and requires that the document reveal candid evaluation of the pros and cons of a particular decision. According to her, courts have routinely required the disclosure of documents that reveal facts or serve as the basis for the final decision even if the documents are written prior to a final decision.

"Information such as calendars and meeting notes do not involve draft recommendations at all," added Buccino.

While it awaits FOIA responses from the other federal agencies, NRDC has filed an appeal of the DOE decision.