Bush Administration Ramping Up Secrecy Fight

In Unprecedented Move, Solicitor General to Defend Cheney in GAO Lawsuit Over Energy Task Force Records

WASHINGTON (September 16, 2002) -- The Bush administration is stepping up its fight to block the release of information about its energy policy by bringing the solicitor general into the case. On Wednesday, Solicitor General Theodore Olson is expected to appear in federal district court to defend Vice President Cheney's continued efforts to keep secret the meetings of his so-called energy task force in a lawsuit brought by the General Accounting Office (GAO). Olson, who represented George W. Bush in his case against Al Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the 2000 presidential election, is the number three official at the Justice Department. The solicitor general traditionally represents the government before the Supreme Court.

"Having the Solicitor General appear in district court is unprecedented," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). NRDC brought one of the first cases against the Bush administration for failure to disclose information related to the energy task force. "The Bush administration is pulling out all the stops to keep the public in the dark about its dubious energy dealings. But Olson's involvement only increases speculation about what the White House has to hide."

The administration is fighting three lawsuits in federal court over the energy task force records. While federal agencies have been forced to release some documents, the White House continues to withhold critical information. Court action ordering the release of the records could occur within the next month in two of the three cases. A summary of all of the legal proceedings against the administration is provided below.

Walker v. Cheney, D.D.C. 02-0340 (JDB) For the first time in history, GAO sued the White House, asserting that it has the right under the statute providing for its existence and authority (Title 31 of the U.S. Code) to investigate the activities of the energy task force because the group received federal funds. Even though GAO believes that it has the right to deliberative documents, it agreed not to seek minutes of the task force meetings. The White House, however, still steadfastly refuses to provide even the most basic information about who the task force met with and when. The case is being heard by Judge John Bates, a new Bush appointee who was previously involved in the Whitewater investigation of former President Bill Clinton.

NRDC v. Department of Energy, D.D.C. 01-2545 (PLF) NRDC sued the Energy Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records relating to the energy task force, including minutes of meetings that occurred. Although the Energy Department and other federal agencies have released some information about whom cabinet officials met with regarding energy policy, the White House has refused to provide similar information. NRDC has argued that the records of Andrew Lundquist, the task force executive director, and other key task force staff -- all of whom were Energy Department employees -- must be disclosed under FOIA. Briefing is complete and Judge Paul Friedman could issue a ruling any day.

Judicial Watch v. National Energy Policy Development Group, D.D.C. 01-1530 (EGS) Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club sued the Bush administration for violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which promotes open and balanced government decision-making. The administration tried to dismiss the case arguing that FACA did not apply to the energy task force. Judge Emmett Sullivan rejected this argument and held that discovery should proceed to establish the facts regarding who met with the task force and when. If outside parties (i.e., industry lobbyists) were regular participants in the task force, the administration may have run afoul of FACA's requirements for public access to the task force meetings and records. While federal agencies have released some information, the White House once again has refused to provide any of its records. A hearing on the administration's motion for protective order is scheduled for September 30.

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.

Related NRDC Pages
The Cheney Energy Task Force