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One Way Discussion on Energy
March 28, 2002

From the NY Times
OpEd

Energy Department documents now confirm what everyone has long suspected - that in seeking guidance on its energy strategy last year, the Bush administration welcomed industry executives and lobbyists with open arms, while treating environmental groups like skunks at a picnic. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, for example, held meetings last year with dozens of industry representatives directly involving the energy plan between late January and May 17, when the White House released its energy report. But he did not meet with conservationists or consumer advocates. The documents also suggest that while staff members of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force eventually consulted environmentalists, they did not do so until late in the game, and then in a perfunctory manner.

Opening the deliberative process to more contrarian views would probably not have deflected Mr. Bush's advisers from the aggressively pro-industry strategy they favored from the start, a strategy that relies heavily on increasing supplies of traditional fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Still, it is distressing that on a matter of this magnitude so few opposing voices were heard. It is no less disturbing that the industries that had the most to gain - many of them major campaign contributors - played such an intimate and influential role in conceiving the final product.

The narrowness of the administration's search for advice was confirmed in more than 11,000 pages of documents released by the Energy Department on Monday in response to a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council. A separate suit against the department and six other government agencies has been filed by Judicial Watch. The documents were accompanied by a press release boasting that the department had surrendered 11,000 pages of documents whereas the Defense Council had asked for only 7,584. That might have been more convincing if so many of the pages hadn't been blanked out or sanitized.

The department also provided a disingenuous chart suggesting significant similarities between the Defense Council's recommendations and those adopted by Mr. Cheney's task force. A closer examination of the two positions reveals that on matters of central importance - drilling on sensitive public lands, easing clean air regulations, increasing fuel economy standards - there are wide differences.

Thanks in part to the unbalanced Cheney report, the House produced an alarmingly one-sided bill with $27 billion in subsidies for traditional energy producers, and only $6 billion for conservation. In the Senate, a more promising bill has been weakened by industry pressure. That's what happens when only one side of an issue gets a fair hearing in Washington.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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