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Context of 'January 23, 2001: Bush Blames California Energy Crisis on Lack of Power Plants'

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Newly elected president George W. Bush says he opposes price caps on wholesale electricity, and suggests that for California to ease its power crisis, it should relax its environmental regulations and allow power companies such as Enron to operate unchecked. “The California crunch really is the result of not enough power-generating plants and then not enough power to power the power of generating plants,” he says. [Harper's, 1/23/2001] In 2002, former Enron energy trader Steve Barth will give a different perspective. “This was like the perfect storm,” he will say of Enron’s merciless gaming of the California energy crisis. “First, our traders are able to buy power for $250 in California and sell it to Arizona for $1,200 and then resell it to California for five times that. Then [Enron Energy Services] was able to go to these large companies and say ‘sign a 10-year contract with us and we’ll save you millions.’” [CBS News, 5/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Enron Energy Services, Enron Corporation, George W. Bush, Steve Barth

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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

Exxon logo.Exxon logo. [Source: Goodlogo (.com)]One of the first officials to meet with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) is James Rouse, the vice president of ExxonMobil and a large financial donor to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. Several days later, Kenneth Lay, the CEO of Enron, meets with the group. It will not be his last meeting (see April 17, 2001 and After). The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released until 2007 (see July 18, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Enron Corporation, James Rouse, ExxonMobil, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Lay

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Joseph Kelliher, a top political appointee on Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001) e-mails natural gas executive Dana Contratto with the following question: “If you were King or Il Duce, what would you include in a national [energy] policy, especially with respect to natural gas issues?” The e-mail is never intended to become public knowledge. Kelliher will later become President Bush’s appointee to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). [Savage, 2007, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: Dana Contratto, Joseph T. Kelliher, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Representatives of 13 environmentalist groups meet with officials from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Since late January, some 40 task force meetings have been held, all with oil and energy company executives and lobbyists (see Before January 20, 2001, After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 5, 2001, March 20, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001. April 17, 2001, and April 17, 2001 and After). Today is the one day where environmental groups are allowed to have any input. Anna Aurilio of the US Public Interest Group will later say, “It was clear to us that they were just being nice to us.” (Notably, the only people ever identified as “lobbyists” by the task force to the press are the representatives from the environmental groups from today’s meeting.) Their input is neither wanted nor used; an initial draft of the task force’s report has already been prepared and President Bush has already been briefed on its contents. The names of the various officials, executives, lobbyists, and representatives who meet with the task force will not be released for six years (see July 18, 2007). Until this meeting, the only environmentalist group to meet with the Cheney task force has been the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, founded in 1998 by conservative tax activist Grover Norquist and Gale Norton, now the Bush administration’s Secretary of the Interior. That group is now run by Italia Federici, described by the Washington Post as “socially involved” with Norton’s deputy, J. Steven Griles. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 18; Washington Post, 7/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, J. Steven Griles, US Public Interest Group, National Energy Policy Development Group, Italia Federici, Anna Aurilio, Grover Norquist, Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Vice President Cheney meets with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay as part of Cheney’s secretive energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Though Cheney may not know it, Enron is on the verge of collapse, with liabilities far outweighing assets and heavily doctored earnings statements. Enron’s only income generation comes from the unregulated energy markets in California and other Western states (see January 23, 2001). Enron traders are gouging the California markets at an unprecedented pace; as authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write, Enron is “taking power plants off-line to create shortages, booking transmission lines for current that never move[s], and shuttling electricity back and forth across state lines to circumvent price controls,” among a plethora of other illegal market manipulations.
Ignoring California's Energy Crisis - Unable to make a profit between buying Enron’s energy at staggering prices and then selling it at regulated rates, one of California’s two largest utility companies has filed for bankruptcy and the other has accepted a government bailout. California is in a calamitous energy crisis. Governor Gray Davis is pleading for rate caps that would help both utility companies and consumers. But price caps are the last thing Lay wants. Once in Cheney’s office, Lay gives Cheney a three-page memo outlining Enron’s recommendations for the administration’s national energy policy Cheney’s group is developing. Prominently featured in the memo is the following recommendation: “The administration should reject any attempt to deregulate wholesale power markets by adopting price caps.” Almost every recommendation in the Lay memo will find its way into the energy task force’s final report. Cheney may not know that Enron is in such dire financial straits, but he does know that energy prices in California have gone from $30 to $300 per megawatthour, with periodic jumps to as high as $1,500. He also knows that Enron’s profits in California, along with other power producers, have gone up 400% to 600%.
Price Caps in Spite of Lay, Cheney - Lay does not get his way; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will override Cheney’s arguments and impose price caps on energy traders working in California. The state’s energy prices are brought under control, Enron’s trading schemes—luridly given such sobriquets as “Death Star,” “Fat Boy,” and “Get Shorty”—are brought to an end, and Enron collapses six months later (see December 2, 2001). Cheney will have a measure of revenge by forcing one of Lay’s adversaries on FERC, Curtis Hebert, out of his position (see August 14, 2001).
Avoiding Scrutiny and Oversight - This meeting and others are cleverly designed to avoid legal government oversight. According to the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA), the energy task force should be subject to public accountability because private parties—in this case, oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists—are helping shape government policy. Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, devises a simple scheme to avoid oversight. When a group of corporate lobbyists come together to create policy, a government official is present. Suddenly, FACA does not apply, and the task force need not provide any information whatsoever to the public. Dubose and Bernstein will later write: “It was bold as [artist] Rene Magritte’s near-photographic representation of a pipe over the inscription ceci n’est pas une pipe—‘this is not a pipe.’ Fifteen oil industry lobbyists meet in the Executive Office Building and one midlevel bureaucrat from the Department of Energy steps into the room—and voila, ceci n’est pas une foule de lobbyists. Because one government employee sat in with every group of lobbyists, a committee of outside advisers was not a committee of outside advisers.” Between Addington’s bureaucratic end-around and Cheney’s chairmanship of the working group giving the entire business the cloak of executive privilege, little information gets out of the group. “The whole thing was designed so that the presence of a government employee at a meeting could keep the Congress out,” a Congressional staff lawyer later says. It also keeps the press at bay. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 3-4, 10]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Lay, Jake Bernstein, Enron Corporation, David S. Addington, Curtis Hebert, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Gray Davis, Lou Dubose, Federal Advisory Committees Act

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

George Skelton, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, gets an unexpected call asking if he wants to interview Vice President Cheney. Skelton thinks the call might be to lay some groundwork for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. But Cheney wants to talk energy. Skelton is happy to oblige: energy prices are out of control in California. Cheney doesn’t just want to talk energy, though, he wants to talk about how bad an idea price caps are (see April 17, 2001 and After). “Price caps provide short-term relief for politicians,” Cheney says, in an oblique swipe at California’s Democratic governor, Gray Davis. He continues, “But they do nothing to deal with the basic, fundamental problem.” Skelton asks if the administration will support temporary price caps to get California through the immediate crisis period, and Cheney replies: “Six months? Six years? Once politicians can no longer resist the temptation to go with price caps, they usually are unable to muster the courage to end them.… I don’t see that as a possibility.” Cheney goes on: “Frankly, California is looked on by many folks as a classic example of the kinds of problems that arise when you do use price caps.” What Skelton does not know is that Cheney is echoing the recommendations of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, whose company is primarily responsible for the California energy crisis. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 4-5]

Entity Tags: Gray Davis, Enron Corporation, George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Lay

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

House Democrats Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Dingell (D-MI) write to Andrew Lundquist, the executive director of the Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001), asking for access to the task force’s records. Waxman and Dingell ask with whom the task force met and what had been said at those meetings. They base their request on the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), an open-government law that states when nongovernment officials, such as energy company officials or lobbyists, help craft public policy, the government must ensure that a balance of viewpoints is represented and such meetings must be open to the press and the public. Two weeks later, Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, replies, denying Waxman and Dingell any information. Addington says that FACA does not apply to the task force, and attaches a memo from Lundquist asserting that while nongovernmental officials have been part of the task force’s deliberations, since they were not official members of the task force, their participation does not count. “These meetings… were simply forums to collect individuals views rather than to bring a collective judgment to bear,” Addington writes. Addington then advises the representatives that they need to show “due regard for the constitutional separation of powers,” claims that the White House can assert executive privilege over the task force’s records, and finishes with the assertion that Congress is not even entitled to the information Addington has provided—he has done so, he writes, “as a matter of comity between the executive and legislative branches.” [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file; Savage, 2007, pp. 87-88]

Entity Tags: Federal Advisory Committee Act, Andrew Lundquist, David S. Addington, John Dingell, National Energy Policy Development Group, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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).

Entity Tags: David Walker, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Charlie Savage, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office (GAO) tries five times to arrange a meeting with David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, regarding the GAO’s request for information about Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001). Addington rebuffs all attempts to meet with GAO officials, and instead sends a letter refusing to comply with the GAO’s request (see May 16 - 17, 2001). On May 17, Addington leaves a voicemail on a GAO telephone saying that he is not authorized to meet with officials to discuss the task force, but that his letter is complete and “self-explanatory.” [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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

The general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO) sends a letter to Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, explaining that the GAO believes its attempt to investigate Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001, May 16, 2001, and May 16 - 17, 2001) is right and proper under US law. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office, David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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).

Entity Tags: Larry Klayman, Chris Farrell, Federal Advisory Committee Act, Judicial Watch, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Fitton, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

David Addington, the chief counsel to Vice President Cheney, refuses to accept any more communications from the General Accounting Office (GAO) regarding the GAO’s attempt to learn about the doings of Cheney’s secret energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Addington directs GAO officials to contact a lawyer at the Department of Justice with any further inquiries. [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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]

Entity Tags: Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

ABC reporter Ted Koppel asks Vice President Dick Cheney about meetings with his “pals” from the oil and energy industries (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After). Koppel is referring to the attempts by Congress to be given the names of the participants in Cheney’s energy task force meetings. Cheney says: “I think it’s going to have to be resolved in court, and I think that’s probably appropriate. I think, in fact, that this is the first time the GAO [Government Accountability Office] has ever issued a so-called demand letter to a president/vice president. I’m a duly elected constitutional officer. The idea that any member of Congress can demand from me a list of everybody I meet with and what they say strikes me as—as inappropriate, and not in keeping with the Constitution.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “The vice president was deftly turning a request for records into a constitutional struggle between the legislative and executive branches.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who issued the original requests before turning them over to the GAO, will put his demands for information on hold because of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, but the case will indeed end up in court (see February 22, 2002). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 11-12]

Entity Tags: Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Government Accountability Office, Henry A. Waxman, Ted Koppel, Jake Bernstein, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Curtis Hebert of the FERC.Curtis Hebert of the FERC. [Source: PBS]Curtis Hebert is replaced by Pat Wood as the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Hebert announced his resignation on August 6. [US Department of Energy, 12/2001] Hebert, a Clinton appointee who nevertheless is a conservative Republican, an ally of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and quite friendly towards the energy corporations, had been named to the FERC shortly before Clinton left office; Bush named him to chair the commission in January 2001. [Consortium News, 5/26/2006]
Replaced at Enron Request - Hebert is apparently replaced at the request of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, who did not find Hebert responsive enough in doing Enron’s bidding. Hebert had just taken the position of FERC chairman in January when he received a phone call from Lay, in which Lay pressured him to back a faster pace in opening up access to the US electricity transmission grid to Enron and other corporations. (Lay later admits making the call, but will say that keeping or firing Hebert is the president’s decision, not his.) When Hebert did not move fast enough for Lay, he is replaced by Pat Wood, a close friend of both Lay and President Bush. [Guardian, 5/26/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2001] Lay apparently threatened Hebert with the loss of his job if he didn’t cooperate with Enron’s request for a more pro-Enron regulatory posture. [CNN, 1/14/2002]
Opposed Enron Consolidation Plan - Hebert was leery of Enron’s plan to force consolidation of the various state utilities into four huge regional transmission organizations (RTOs), a plan that would have given Enron and other energy traders far larger markets for their energy sales. Hebert, true to his conservative beliefs, is a states’ rights advocate who was uncomfortable with the plan to merge the state utilities into four federal entities. Lay told Hebert flatly that if he supported the transition to the RTOs, Lay would back him in retaining his position with FERC. Hebert told reporters that he was “offended” at the veiled threat, but knew that Lay could back up his pressure, having already demonstrated his influence over selecting Bush administration appointees by giving Bush officials a list of preferred candidates and personally interviewing at least one potential FERC nominee (see January 21, 2001). [PBS, 2/2/2002; Consortium News, 5/26/2006] According to Hebert, Lay told him that “he and Enron would like to support me as chairman, but we would have to agree on principles.” [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Hebert added to another reporter, “I think he would be a much bigger supporter of mine if I was willing to do what he wanted me to do.” Lay recently admitted to making such a list of preferred candidates: “I brought a list. We certainly presented a list, and I think that was by way of letter. As I recall I signed a letter which, in fact, had some recommendations as to people that we thought would be good commissioners.…I’m not sure I ever personally interviewed any of them but I think in fact there were conversations between at least some of them and some of my people from time to time.” [PBS, 2/2/2002]
Cheney Behind Ouster - Joe Garcia, a Florida energy regulator, says he was interviewed by Lay and other Enron officials. After Hebert made it clear to Lay that he wouldn’t go along with Lay’s plans to reorganize the nation’s utilities, Vice President Dick Cheney, who supervises the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 16, 2001, began questioning Hebert’s fitness. [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Cheney said in May 2001, “Pat Wood has got to be the new chairman of FERC.” In private, Cheney said then that Hebert was out as chairman and Wood was in, though Hebert did not know at the time that his days were numbered. [PBS, 2/2/2002] “It just confirms what we believed and what we’ve been saying, that the Bush-Cheney energy plan is written by corporations and it’s in the interests of the corporations,” says the National Environmental Trust’s Kevin Curtis. [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Not only was Hebert not responsive enough to Lay’s pressure, but he had become a focus of criticism for his refusal to scrutinize Enron’s price gouging in the California energy deregulation debacle. Wood’s more moderate position helps ease the worries of other states themselves losing confidence in the Bush administration’s deregulation advocacy. [American Prospect, 1/2/2002]
Hebert Investigating Enron Schemes - And even more unsettling for Enron, Hebert was beginning to investigate Enron’s complicated derivative-financing procedures, an investigation that may have led to an untimely exposure of Enron’s financial exploitation of the US’s energy deregulation—exploitation that was going on under plans nicknamed, among other monikers, “Fat Boy,” “Death Star,” “Get Shorty,” all of which siphoned electricity away from areas that needed it most and being paid exorbitant fees for phantom transfers of energy supposedly to ease transmission-line congestion. [Consortium News, 5/26/2006] “One of our problems is that we do not have the expertise to truly unravel the complex arbitrage activities of a company like Enron,” Hebert recently told reporters. “We’re trying to do it now and we may have some results soon.” [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Instead, Hebert is forced out of FERC. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for an investigation into Enron’s improper influence of the FERC committee after the media revealed Lay’s phone call to Hebert in May 2001 (see May 25, 2001).

Entity Tags: National Environmental Trust, Trent Lott, Kevin Curtis, Pat Wood, Kenneth Lay, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, George W. Bush, Curtis Hebert, Joe Garcia, Dianne Feinstein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Enron Corporation

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record


Enron’s logo.
Enron’s logo. [Source: Enron]Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy—the biggest bankruptcy in history up to that date. [BBC, 1/10/2002] However, in 2002 Enron will reorganize as a pipeline company and will continue working on its controversial Dabhol power plant. [Houston Business Journal, 3/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Enron Corporation

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Complete 911 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney continues to battle the General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s request for the records of his energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and April 17, 2001 and After) in the broadcast media (see July 26, 2001). On Fox News, he reiterates his insistence that he will not turn over any records from the task force unless compelled to do so by the courts, and says indignantly, “They’ve demanded of me that I give Henry Waxman [the California Democratic representative who originated the demand for task force records] a list of everybody I met with, of everything that was discussed, any advice that was revealed, notes and memos of these meetings.” Cheney is lying. The GAO only asked for the minutes from the meetings and the names of the participants (see July 31, 2001 and February 22, 2002), and soon the GAO will scale back its request to nothing more than the names and schedules of the participants and the meetings, not the contents of the meetings themselves. Four years later, when the court case has long been settled in Cheney’s favor (see February 7, 2003), Cheney will still mischaracterize the issue as an improper demand from Congress for an executive branch official to disclose the contents of private conversations and meetings, and therefore destroy “the ability of the president and the vice president to receive unvarnished advice.” Former Justice Department official Bruce Fein will call the argument “bogus, specious, [and] absurd.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 12-13] GAO officials call Cheney’s statement a “critical and highly material misrepresentation” of the facts. [National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bruce Fein, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and fellow senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to evaluate the process by which the Bush administration’s energy policy has been developed (see May 16, 2001). The senators’ request is apparently in support of the GAO’s long-blocked investigation of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001). [General Accounting Office, 8/25/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Byron L. Dorgan, General Accounting Office, Joseph Lieberman, National Energy Policy Development Group, Ernest F. Hollings

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Anthony Gamboa, the general counsel for the General Accounting Office (GAO), reiterates the GAO’s modification of its original request for documents and records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Gamboa writes: “The GAO long ago dropped its request for the minutes and notes of the vice president’s meetings with people outside the government, as well as requests for any materials those individuals have given to Mr. Cheney (see July 31, 2001). The GAO simply seeks the names of those he met in his capacity as head of the energy policy task force, when and where he met them, the subject matter of the meetings, and an explanation of the costs incurred.” Cheney responds during an appearance on the late-night talk show The Tonight Show. He explains his continued refusal to cooperate with the GAO: “What’s at stake here is whether a member of Congress [Henry Waxman (D-CA), whom Cheney has accused the GAO of working for] can demand that I give him notes of all my meetings and a list of everybody I met with. We don’t think that he has that authority.” [National Review, 2/20/2002] The GAO’s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, will later call Cheney’s statements “disinformation.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Anthony Gamboa, David Walker, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, General Accounting Office

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

David Walker, comptroller of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a Ronald Reagan appointee, files a lawsuit to compel Vice President Dick Cheney and his office to reveal the names of the private businessmen and organizational officials that his energy task force (see January 29, 2001) met with to craft the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 8, 2001). This is the first time since its creation in 1920 that the GAO has been forced to file suit to compel another government agency to follow the law and cooperate with its requests. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79] In a statement, Walker writes: “This is the first time that GAO has filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records access issue. We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice. Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously. [General Accounting Office, 2/22/2002 pdf file]
'Fundamental Questions' about Governmental 'Checks and Balances' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004: “This was, to say the least, a high-stakes lawsuit. It raised fundamental questions about the very nature of our system of checks and balances. If the GAO could not get the information it requested, then there was a black hole in the federal firmament—a no-man’s land where a president and vice president could go free from Congressional oversight.” By random selection, the case lands in the court of Judge John Bates, a career Justice Department lawyer who once worked for the Whitewater investigative team led by Kenneth Starr, and had just recently been appointed to the bench by President Bush. The choice of Bates will prove critical to the verdict of the case. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79]
Schlafly: Secrecy a 'Mistake' - Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly will write in 2002: “[T]he public wants to know how our energy policy was developed. When information is kept secret, the natural inference is that there must be something the administration is very eager to hide. While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. Regardless of the legal veil woven over the energy policy meetings, Cheney’s secrecy is a political mistake.” [Eagle Forum, 3/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Phyllis Schlafly, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Dean, Government Accountability Office, Bush administration (43), David Walker, George W. Bush, Energy Task Force, John Bates

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

Andrew Lundquist, the White House director of energy policy and the chairman of the Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001), resigns from government service. The next day, Lundquist goes into the lobbying business. The Lundquist Group opens offices in what the Boston Globe will call a “posh office building perched kitty-corner from the Capitol.” Lundquist’s business will take in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from clients such as British Petroleum (see March 22, 2001) and Duke Energy Corporation (see March 5, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 346]

Entity Tags: British Petroleum, Andrew Lundquist, Duke Energy, Lundquist Group, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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

Congress passes the Energy Policy Act (EPA) of 2005. The EPA is the product of the secret Cheney energy task force (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The act provides $14.5 billion in tax breaks for corporate energy providers, primarily oil, coal, and nuclear power companies. It contains an array of odd and obscure provisions helping industrialists, many generated by the lobbyists and corporate executives who helped craft the bill (see May 10, 2005). It does nothing to discourage consumption by raising fuel efficiency standards, and does little to address the sharply rising price of oil. What it does, primarily, is give huge financial and regulatory breaks to the energy industry. [Savage, 2007, pp. 360]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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