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Context of 'December 15, 2003: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Cheney Energy Task Force Case'

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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]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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; Guardian, 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. [Japan Today, 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; New York Times, 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. [Washington Post, 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]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Lay, Halliburton, Inc., Environmental Protection Agency, Enron Corporation, Andrew Lundquist, Bush administration (43), American Petroleum Institute, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, British Petroleum, Duke Energy, John Browne

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Peak Oil

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]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Emmet Sullivan, Judicial Watch, Chris Farrell

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents.Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: US Department of Commerce, Lou Dubose, Judicial Watch, Jake Bernstein, National Energy Policy Development Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Fitton, Sierra Club

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. [Reuters, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Agency, Emmet Sullivan, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court convenes to hear arguments in Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a judicial order to reveal information about his secret energy task force (see December 15, 2003). Justice Antonin Scalia has recently returned from a duck hunting trip with Cheney; though critics demand he recuse himself to avoid charges of conflict of interest, Scalia refuses. The plaintiffs, conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch and progressive environmental group Sierra Club, are heavily represented in the courtroom, and friends and supporters jam the courthouse steps. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for the government, posits that the White House enjoys a “constitutional immunity” that protects the executive branch from all requests for information unless the president himself is under criminal investigation. If the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) forces the president to make public any advice he or other White House officials have received, or even to make that information available to a judge (see August 2, 2002), FACA itself is unconstitutional, Olsen argues. “This is a case about separation of powers,” he says. Neither Congress nor the judiciary can force the president or his officials to disclose information to a judge, not even on a very limited basis to determine whether a lawsuit can proceed—a process called discovery. “We are submitting that the discovery itself violates the Constitution,” Olson asserts. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is taken aback by the sweep of his claim, which, if accepted, would gut the ability of the courts to review any civil lawsuit involving the executive branch. “All discovery?” she asks. “Yes,” Olson replies. Throughout the questioning, most of the justices seem sympathetic to the administration’s general constitutional concerns, but uncomfortable with siding entirely with the White House’s sweeping claims of inherent legal immunity from scrutiny. [Savage, 2007, pp. 166-167] The oral arguments will continue for weeks (see April 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Federal Advisory Committee Act, Antonin Scalia, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, National Energy Policy Development Group, US Supreme Court, Sierra Club

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. [MSNBC, 4/26/2004; New York Times, 4/28/2004; CNN, 6/24/2004]
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” [FindLaw, 3/26/2004]
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Sierra Club, US Department of Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Bookbinder, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Federal Advisory Committee Act, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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