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Context of 'June 25, 2001: Conservative Watchdog Group Demands Energy Task Force Records'

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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)

The General Accounting Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, sends David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, a letter declaring that it intends to review the composition and activities of Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington is the one who issued the flat refusal to allow members of Congress to see any of the minutes or documents generated by the task force (see April 19 - May 4, 2001); in response, the members of Congress who requested the information asked GAO chief and comptroller general David Walker for help in investigating the task force. Walker is quite bipartisan, having worked for the Reagan and Bush-Quayle administrations before being appointed to the chairmanship of the GAO by President Clinton. (Savage 2007, pp. 88) Addington will reply to Walker, denying that the GAO has any authority to investigate the task force (see May 16 - 17, 2001). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call the Cheney-Addington battle with the GAO an early instance of the Bush administration’s fight to claim ever-widening presidential powers at the expense of Congress (see January 21, 2001).

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)

Judicial Watch logo.Judicial Watch logo. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch sends a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding to see the records of his secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Chris Farrell, the organization’s director of investigations and research, saw a May 2001 Newsweek article about the task force. Farrell later says he was struck by the similarities between Cheney’s energy task force and the 1994 health care task force chaired by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. “The government can’t operate in secret,” Farrell will later say. “They are answerable to the people. There are appropriate times for secrecy on military and intelligence matters, but the notion that national policy on a matter like energy or health care can be developed in secret is offensive and counter to the Constitution.” Farrell, along with Judicial Watch chairman Larry Klayman and president Thomas Fitton, agreed that the task force violates core conservative principles, and made the decision to challenge Cheney’s office. Their letter notes that the rules governing the task force are clear: if the executive branch chooses to solicit outside advice while writing policy, then the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is triggered, requiring the government to make the details of those meetings public (the same argument made by the General Accounting Office—see May 8, 2001). “Judicial Watch respectfully requests that, in light of the questionable legal and ethical practices, negative publicity, and public outrage surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1994 national health-care policy development group, you direct the [energy task force] to abide by the FACA. [Such openness] will instill public trust and confidence in the operations of the [task force] and insure that the national policy is formulated, discussed, and acted upon in a manner consistent with the best traditions of our Constitutional Republic.” (Savage 2007, pp. 91-92) Cheney’s office will refuse the request (see July 5, 2001). In return, Judicial Watch will sue for the documents’ release (see July 14, 2001).

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 conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch files a lawsuit demanding the release of documents pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Judicial Watch had requested that Cheney voluntarily turn over the records, a request his office denied (see July 5, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 92)

District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rules that if Vice President Dick Cheney wants to have him dismiss a lawsuit brought by the watchdog organization Judicial Watch (see June 25, 2001), Cheney must show him the task force documents so that he can make an informed decision. No one else would see the documents, Sullivan says, and he cites a 1993 ruling forcing the Clinton health care task force to reveal its source documents and allow a judge to decide whether that task force had had outside lobbyists directly participating in its work. Judicial Watch’s director of investigations, Chris Farrell, is jubilant over Sullivan’s ruling. “It was very encouraging,” he will later recall. “It looked like the judge had the intellectual honesty and courage to at least give it an evaluation and a fair look. If, in fact, everything the administration was saying was true, then the judge would look at it and draw that conclusion. At least then the public would have some sense of confidence and trust that the right thing was being done, because a fresh set of eyes had looked at it. Without that check, you don’t know.” But Cheney refuses to comply with the order, and instead appeals Sullivan’s decision, asking an appeals court to summarily dismiss Sullivan’s ruling without first making Cheney show the documents to a judge. The appeals court will turn Cheney down, paving the way for a Supreme Court hearing (see December 15, 2003). (Savage 2007, pp. 160-161)


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