Documents Reveal Energy Head Met No Environmentalists

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham held at least eight private meetings with industry leaders, including many staunch GOP political contributors, but none with environmentalists as the administration crafted its energy plan, newly released documents show.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham held at least eight private meetings with industry leaders, including many staunch GOP political contributors, but none with environmentalists as the administration crafted its energy plan, newly released documents show.

The meetings between Abraham and the energy industry executives were disclosed in thousands of papers related to agency participation in Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force in early 2001.

The White House on Tuesday defended Abraham and the meetings.

“News flash: it’s no surprise to anybody that the secretary of energy meets with energy-related groups,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Of the three dozen individuals and groups that met with Abrahan, a half dozen of them accounted for nearly $3.3 million in political contributions to Republicans since 1999, almost three time what they gave Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Critics of the administration’s energy policies have argued that industry had an open door to top-level administration policy makers, while those advocating conservation, energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy sources were given largely lip service.

Fleischer suggested that environmentalists and those advocating energy conservation or renewable fuels had other avenues of access. “Others in the government routinely, regularly meet with other (outside) officials and all of that gets combined,” he said.

But the White House has refused to provide a list of people who met directly with the Cheney task force in the months prior to its release of its energy report last May. Abraham’s department, in addition to dealing with traditional fuels, also oversees energy efficiency standards and renewable fuels programs.

Abraham said in a statement that the 11,000 pages of documents — everything from daily schedules to congressional testimony — “will further confirm” that the administration sought out a wide range of views, including that of environmentalists.

But the papers released late Monday by DOE document no top-level meetings with advocates of energy efficiency or renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power.

The department took pains to note that the documents also catalogue 23 requests that were denied for meetings mostly with industry representatives to discuss the energy plan. Among those turned down were Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skillings of Enron Corp.

While documents included reams of energy policy statements including some from environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society, it was the industry executives who had the access to Abraham, a key member of Cheney’s task force.

In all, three dozen energy executives and lobbyists participated in eight meetings with Abraham from mid-February to late April 2001. The Cheney energy report was released in May.

He met with a top executive of the American Coal Co.; officials of the Independent Petroleum Association of America; the chairman of Utilicorp, a major power company to discuss electricity deregulation; and with a half dozen utility executives and other oil and gas industry leaders.

A “drop-by” session to “discuss nuclear energy’s role” in the Bush energy plan lasted 30 minutes on March 20 and included the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, chairman of Westinghouse and the chief executives of a half dozen major nuclear power utilities.

Industry’s access was shown in other papers among the 3,000 Energy Department documents and 4,000 documents also released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In one e-mail to Joe Kelliher, the DOE’s point man on the Cheney task force, an official of Southern Company, the Atlanta-based power conglomerate, offers reasons why the administration should revamp a clean air regulation known as “New Source Review” which is at the heart of a series of ongoing lawsuits against Southern and several other utilities.

“I hope this is helpful,” the utility official, Michael Riith, wrote Kelliher, adding, “I look forward to lunch on Tuesday.”

The Cheney task force called for the EPA to review the clean air regulation — a review expected to lead to an easing of the regulation.

Among the papers also were EPA documents revealing an oil industry push to ease state regulation of so-called “boutique” gasoline blends and auto industry pressure to ease federal fuel economy rules.

One of the oil companies, Citgo, urged the administration “to exercise federal authority to prevent states” from establishing separate fuel standards. The Cheney task force urged EPA to deal with the boutique fuels issue.

Also among the Energy Department and EPA papers was a three-page memo from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers declaring that the federal auto fuel economy rule, known as CAFE, “is an ineffective energy policy.”

The alliance instead supported consumer tax credits for advanced technology vehicles, and urged development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — positions the Cheney task force later advocated.

The documents, many with large portions marked out, were ordered released by two federal judges as part of lawsuits brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

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Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.

Author: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

News Service: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Cheney-Energy.html?ex=1018173619&ei=1&en=af5cc7dea38569c1