NRDC Says Politics Trumped Law in Ruling Against GAO in Cheney Energy Task Force Lawsuit
Three Other Cases Pending; NRDC Case On Deck
WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 9, 2002) -- Today a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) seeking records related to Vice President Cheney's energy task force. The White House, however, is not off the hook for producing the papers.
Three lawsuits are pending, including one by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), to force the White House to turn over the information it continues to hold secret from the public. While agencies such as the Department of Energy have released records in response to earlier court orders, the White House has refused to disclose the records of the energy task force. The NRDC lawsuit awaits a decision by Judge Paul Friedman."Judge Bates' decision to shield the activities of Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force seems to be more about politics than the law," said NRDC Senior Attorney Sharon Buccino.
President Bush appointed Judge John Bates to the U.S. District Court in December 2001. (See bio: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/bates-bio.html.) Judge Bates' ruling contrasts with his previous experiences as a deputy to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, when he led the fight to force the White House to disclose information.
Judge Bates held that GAO lacked standing to bring the suit because it had no "injury." However, Bates' decision makes it impossible for GAO to do its job of overseeing how public funds are spent, according to NRDC.
"No doubt the GAO will appeal the case, as well it should," Buccino said.
A summary of all of the legal proceedings related to the energy task force papers 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. Such court action has never before been necessary because GAO has never faced such a refusal for information so basic to its oversight responsibilities. Judge John Bates dismissed the case on December 9, 2002.
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. Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered discovery in this case, but the D.C. Circuit stayed this decision on December 6, 2002, pending appeal.
NRDC v. Department of Interior, D.D.C. 02-1330 (PLF)
NRDC has also filed a FOIA case against the Department of Interior for records related to the formation and the implementation of the energy task force recommendations. DOI is already moving forward to expedite energy development on public lands across the West, yet refuses to provide basic information about the decisions the agency is making and who is influencing them.
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