"It’s a terribly hard job to spend a billion dollars and get your money’s worth."
     -- George M. Humphrey, U.S. Treasury Secretary, February 23, 1954.
"According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions."
    
-- Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Defense Secretary, September 10, 2001.

 

Our Notional Energy Policy
Posted June 6, 2005 | Link

On January 29, 2001, after just nine days in office, George W. Bush asked Vice President Dick Cheney to "lead the development of a national energy policy." Seven weeks later, Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) finished the first phase of their work and reported that they were making good progress. On May 16, 2001, the NEPDG released its final report, a document that became our official National Energy Policy.

However, not everyone thought of this effort as a job well done. On April 19, 2001, about a month after the NEPDG's first status report, U.S. Representatives John Dingell and Henry Waxman, as well as the conservative legal watchdog Judicial Watch, filed motions to examine the working documents (i.e., schedules, budgets, etc.) of the NEPDG's meetings. Rumors had begun to circulate that the NEPDG turned into a revolving door for energy companies, Bush campaign donors, and lobbyists, so the Dingell/Waxman/Judicial Watch trio decided to look into the paper trail and decide if anyone had been improperly lubricating our energy policy.

What happened next was one of the most unprecedented and contentious showdowns between two branches of our government in history. In a nutshell, Vice President Cheney refused to release any information about the NEPDG, citing executive privilege and the separation of Executive and Legislative Branch powers. Judicial Watch, the Sierra Club, and even the Government Accountability Office (GAO) all believed that Cheney's NEPDG was in potential violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA ensures that non-governmental participation on Executive Branch committees is regulated, and the mainstream media was reporting quite a bit of such involvement in NEPDG meetings--notably the attendance of representatives from Enron.

Enron's Ken Lay. Is his nose growing?

In the summer of 2001, the LA Times helped put a finer point on the issues at hand with a long, stinging article that highlighted the extensive pressure put on NEPDG by energy lobbyists while the environmental protection lobby was being completely ignored. The only chance environmentalists had to influence the NEPDG was a 50-minute meeting on April 4, 2001. The meeting was practically over by the time the 15 attendees introduced themselves.

And it wasn't just people like Enron's Ken Lay that were getting into the action. Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal producer and a contributor of more than $900,000 to Republicans between 1999-2001 ($100,000 from the CEO alone), met with the NEPDG on March 1, 2001--just two weeks after announcing plans for a public stock offering. Five days after the National Energy Policy was released--with a surprisingly coal-friendly outlook--Peabody went public and made about $420 million, roughly $60 million more than analysts expected.

The roll call of other industry representatives that made their way into NEPDG meetings is long and illustrious and does not include any environmental protection or conservation groups (ACE3 being a small exception).

  • Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
  • American Coal Company
  • American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACE3)
  • American Gas Association
  • American Petroleum Institute
  • American Public Power Association
  • Barbour, Griffith & Rogers (lobbying firm)
  • Coal Council
  • CSX
  • Enviropower, Inc.
  • Detroit Edison
  • Duberstein Group (lobbying firm)
  • Duke Energy
  • Dutko Group (lobbying firm)
  • Edison Electric Institute
  • Enron (including Ken Lay)
  • General Motors
  • Green Mountain Energy
  • National Mining Association
  • National Petrochemical and Refiners' Association
  • National Petroleum Council
  • Small Refiners Association
  • Southern Company
  • Yakama Nation Electric Utility

The odd thing in all of this industry-friendly activity is the subterfuge. After all, the National Energy Policy that was finally adopted was more or less similar to the platform that Bush ran on during his campaign. Given that Cheney was formerly the CEO of Halliburton, the large oil and gas services company, it was hardly a shock that an energy task force he led would create policies that favor fossil fuels and the corporations that provide them. So why would Cheney fight all the way to the Supreme Court to block the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for NEPDG documents?

The facts of each trial are somewhat illuminating. First, the GAO's lawsuit was dismissed by John D. Bates, a Bush (43) appointee and a former Deputy Independent Counsel in the Whitewater investigation (no axe to grind there). Isn't it somewhat ironic that a lawyer who fought the Executive Branch tooth and nail to disclose information would now find the same branch of government to be essentially immune from Congressional oversight?

Scalia and Bates. Good judges? Not to environmentalists.

Examining the Supreme Court decision in the Judicial Watch/Sierra Club case is even more instructive. Basically, they found for Cheney and the separation of powers, but had to admit that the plaintiff's case was hamstrung from the start simply because they had to rely on discovery to prove their case. In other words, in order to prove FACA violations had occurred, the GAO, Judicial Watch, and the Sierra Club had to view NEPDG documents through discovery, especially after their FOIA requests had been rejected.

The telling point is that Cheney's office didn't even try to narrow the discovery process to a simpler, more mundane task at all. They simply refused to allow it. The Supreme Court took strong notice of this fact and noted that things would have certainly transpired differently if the lawsuits required a more narrow discovery and if they had convinced Cheney to abide by it.

However, one item in particular leads me to believe that Cheney would never have revealed the documents created by his energy task force. On July 17, 2003, one of Judicial Watch's FOIA requests managed to produce a handful of NEPDG documents from the Commerce Department. These documents included detailed maps of Iraqi, Saudi Arabian, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) oil fields, a list of oil-related projects in Saudi Arabia and UAE, and a list of foreign suitors for Iraqi oil contracts.


Iraqi Oil Fields

Iraqi Suitors #1

Iraqi Suitors #2
This table illustrates
the key documents
that were released
on July 17, 2003
by the Commerce
Department to
Judicial Watch after
their FOIA request.

Click on one to view.


Saudi Arabian Oil Fields

Saudi Arabian Oil Projects

UAE Oil Fields

UAE Oil Projects

Given that almost every shred of evidence in the last few years suggests that President Bush was planning his Asian land grabs before he even took office, it seems almost too coincidental that the first thing he does after taking office is to convene an energy task force that uses Asian oil maps to create our domestic energy policy. Perhaps Dick Cheney said it best when he addressed the London Institute of Petroleum in November, 1999:

"Well, the end of the oil era is not here yet, but changes are afoot, and the industry must be ready to adapt to the new century and to the transformations that lie ahead."

Are we ready for such "transformations"? They have already begun and more than 1,600 Americans have paid for them with the highest sacrifice. Is this what must happen in order to meet our nation's energy demands? Just something to think about the next time you fill up.

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