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Context of 'June 7, 2001: Cheney’s Lawyer Tells GAO US Law Does Not Apply to Energy Task Force'

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President Bush informs a small group of reporters that he is forming an “energy task force” to draw up a new national energy policy. It will be the first major policy initiative of his presidency. The administration is driven by its concern for “the people who work for a living… who struggle every day to get ahead.” The task force will find ways to meet the rising demand for energy and to avoid the shortfalls causing major power blackouts in California and other areas (see January 23, 2001). He has chosen Vice President Cheney to chair the task force. “Can’t think of a better man to run it than the vice president,” he says. He refuses to take questions, turning aside queries with jokes about the recent Super Bowl. The short press briefing will be virtually the only time the White House tells reporters anything about Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. (Savage 2007, pp. 85-86) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that the task force “held a series of meetings with outside interests whose identities were withheld from the public. This created an early impression of an administration prone to secrecy and reinforced the image of the Bush White House as in thrall to corporate interests.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 96)

National Energy Policy report.National Energy Policy report. [Source: Climate Change Technology Program]Vice President Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group releases its energy plan. The plan, titled Reliable, Affordable, and Environmentally Sound Energy for America’s Future, warns that the quantity of oil imported per day will need to rise more than fifty percent to 16.7 million barrels by 2020. “A significant disruption in world oil supplies could adversely affect our economy and our ability to promote key foreign and economic policy objectives, regardless of the level of US dependence on oil imports,” the report explains. To meet the US’s rising demand for oil, the plan calls for expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and the easing of regulatory barriers to building nuclear power plants. (US President 5/16/2001, pp. 8.5 pdf file; Associated Press 12/9/2002; Macalister et al. 1/23/2003)
Emphasis on Foreign Oil - The report places substantial emphasis on oil from the Persian Gulf region. Its chapter on “strengthening global alliances” states: “By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security. The Gulf will be a primary focus of US international energy policy.” (US President 5/16/2001, pp. 8.5 pdf file) But it also suggests that the US cannot depend exclusively on traditional sources of supply to provide the growing amount of oil that it needs and will have to obtain substantial supplies from new sources, such as the Caspian states, Russia, Africa, and the Atlantic Basin. Additionally, it notes that the US cannot rely on market forces alone to gain access to these added supplies, but will also require a significant effort on the part of government officials to overcome foreign resistance to the outward reach of American energy companies. (Klare 4/30/2002)
Revamping of Clean Air Act - The plan also calls for a clarification of the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act, which requires energy companies to install state-of-the-art emission control technology whenever it makes major modifications to its plants. The administration’s energy plan gives the Environmental Protection Agency 90 days to review NSR and determine whether it is discouraging companies from constructing or expanding power plants and refineries. It also instructs the attorney general to review current NSR litigation efforts against utility companies to determine whether those efforts are contributing to the country’s energy problems. “The outcome could determine whether the government drops some cases, approaches others more leniently, or even renegotiates settlements already reached,” the New York Times reports. (US President 5/16/2001, pp. 8.5 pdf file; Jehl 5/18/2001)
Dodging the EPA - The representative of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the task force had blocked the recommendation of a technique called “hydraulic fracturing.” Sometimes called “fracking,” the technique, used to extract natural gas from the earth, often contaminates aquifers used for drinking water and irrigation. The recommendation was removed to placate the EPA official, then quietly reinserted into the final draft. Halliburton, Cheney’s former firm, is the US leader in the use of hydraulic fracturing. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 18)
Cheney Stayed Largely behind the Scenes - Much of the task force’s work was done by a six-member staff, led by executive director Andrew Lundquist, a former aide to senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Frank Murkowski (R-AK). Lundquist served as the Bush-Cheney campaign’s energy expert, earning the nickname “Light Bulb” from the president. Lundquist will leave the Bush administration and become a lobbyist for such firms as British Petroleum, Duke Energy, and the American Petroleum Institute. Much of the report is shaped by Lundquist and his colleagues, who in turn relied heavily on energy company executives and their lobbyists. For himself, Cheney did not meet openly with most of the participants, remaining largely behind the scenes. He did meet with Enron executive Kenneth Lay (see April 17, 2001 and After), with officials from Sandia National Laboratories to discuss their economic models of the energy industry, with energy industry consultants, and with selected Congressmen. Cheney also held meetings with oil executives such as British Petroleum’s John Browne that are not listed on the task force’s calendar. (Abramowitz and Mufson 7/18/2007)
Controversial Meetings with Energy Executives - Both prior to and after the publication of this report, Cheney and other Task Force officials meet with executives from Enron and other energy companies, including one meeting a month and a half before Enron declares bankruptcy in December 2001 (see After January 20, 2001), Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001). Two separate lawsuits are later filed to reveal details of how the government’s energy policy was formed and whether Enron or other players may have influenced it, but the courts will eventually allow the Bush administration to keep the documents secret (see May 10, 2005). (Associated Press 12/9/2002)

David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, writes another letter rebuffing the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). This time, Addington writes that the GAO lacks the authority to obtain the requested information. He reasons that in statute 31 USC 717, which requires the GAO’s chief, the comptroller general, to “evaluate the results of a program or activity the government carries out under existing law,” the words “existing law” do not include the US Constitution. Under statute 31 USC 712, which requires the comptroller general to investigate “all matters related to the receipt, disbursement, and use of public money,” the task force is only required to inform the GAO of financial cost information—hence Addington’s previous letter informing the GAO about the task force’s mundane expenses (see May 16 - 17, 2001 and June 21, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 pdf file)

Pursuant to his letter to the General Accounting Office (GAO—see June 7, 2001), David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, sends the GAO 77 pages of financial information relating to Cheney’s secret energy task force. The documents cover little more than mundane expenses by the task force, including a pizza bought by task force chief Andrew Lundquist. The GAO will characterize the documents as “virtually impossible to analyze, as they consisted, for example, of pages with dollar amounts but no indication of the nature or the purpose of the expenditure. Nor did the materials reflect any apparent expenses in connection with the work of the six assigned [task force] staff.” (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 pdf file; Savage 2007, pp. 88-89)

David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, writes a three-sentence letter to the government oversight organization Judicial Watch, rejecting its request for the records of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see June 25, 2001). Addington uses the same argument he used to reject the General Accounting Office’s request for records of the task force (see June 7, 2001): since open-government laws do not apply to the task force, in his opinion, there will be “no disclosure of the materials you requested.” Judicial Watch will file a lawsuit demanding the task force’s records be made available to the public (see July 14, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 92)

The General Accounting Office, repeatedly rebuffed by Vice President Cheney’s office in its attempt to secure information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see May 8, 2001, May 10-17, 2001, May 16 - 17, 2001, June 7, 2001, June 21, 2001, and July 3, 2001), sends a letter written by its head, Comptroller General David Walker, to Cheney. Walker notes the repeated rebuffs from Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, and others in his office, and once again lays out his request for information regarding the task force’s participants, minutes of meetings, and other relevant information. When Walker follows up his letter with a phone call to Cheney on July 30, Cheney will fail to take the call. (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 pdf file)

Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, responds to the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s offer to scale back its request for information regarding Cheney’s energy task force (see July 31, 2001) with another blanket refusal. Addington again asserts that the GAO has no authority to make such a request (see June 7, 2001). (General Accounting Office 8/25/2003 pdf file)

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