Conservation Groups Accuse White House of Renewing Secret Energy Meetings

Rocky Mountain Energy Council Targeted for Prohibiting Public Participation

WASHINGTON (July 24, 2003) -- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, demanding access to records related to the recently established Rocky Mountain Energy Council (RMEC). According to NRDC Attorney Sharon Buccino, the RMEC appears to undermine the CEQ's statutory obligation to "foster and promote the improvement of environmental quality."

"The Rocky Mountain Energy Council has shut out the public in favor of doing its business behind closed doors," Buccino says. "The RMEC looks like the latest attempt by the White House to give industry the inside track on energy policy, at the expense of public health and our public lands."

Buccino noted that the RMEC appears to be operating in similar way to Vice President Dick Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group (otherwise known as the Energy Task Force). On July 8, a Federal Court ordered the White House to disclose the details of the group's activities; so far, Cheney has defied the court order.

"White House officials keep talking about how their oil and gas plans will protect the West's environment, but they won't let citizens in the West take part in a process that could affect our homes and communities, our air and water quality," says Mike Chiropolos, Lands Program Director for the Colorado-based Western Resource Advocates. "If the RMEC is really going to promote environmentally-sensitive energy development, then why meet behind closed doors?"

According to press reports, the RMEC held its first meeting in Denver on July 8 and 9, but did not allow reporters or the public to participate. CEQ officials told the Denver Post that officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, the White House, and Department of Interior attended the meeting. It is not clear whether representatives of the oil and gas industry were also present.

As part of the FOIA request, NRDC is seeking all minutes and records related to the RMEC and the Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining; the names and professional affiliations of individuals who attended the RMEC's meetings; and details of the RMEC's future plans. The FOIA request is available here.

NRDC and a coalition of Rocky Mountain energy and public lands groups also sent a letter to CEQ Chairman James L. Connaughton today, asking that he either open the RMEC to public scrutiny or disband the group. The letter's signatories include groups based in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana, as well as several national groups. The letter is available here.

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.