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Wed, Mar 27, 2002 - Page 21 News List

US energy policy meets involved Enron

VESTED INTERESTS Investigators will be looking into the possibility that major oil and gas companies played a disproportionate role in aiding the Bush administration

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Thousands of documents released under a federal judge's order on Monday show that Bush administration officials met with numerous utilities and oil companies before unveiling their energy policy plan last year.

Democratic lawmakers allege Enron Corp and other energy companies played a disproportionately large role in the task force's deliberations, whereas environmentalists were largely shut out.

The task force, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, produced a policy favoring more oil and gas drilling as well as a revival of nuclear power. Cheney's office has acknowledged that representatives of Enron, Bush's biggest financial backer in the 2000 campaign, were among industry experts the task force consulted.

Bush has insisted releasing documents in the GAO suit would damage the executive branch's ability to obtain candid outside advice, signaling he was ready for courtroom combat.

The disclosures were made in 11,000 pages the Department of Energy released to comply with a judge's order made in a case brought by Judicial Watch.

Congress' main investigative arm -- the General Accounting Office -- has sued the Bush administration to compel production of information on the meetings.

President George W. Bush has vowed to fight the request, claiming the information is privileged.

Judicial Watch also obtained the release of thousands of documents from the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, Agriculture Department, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Most of those documents were heavily edited and stripped of most substance, according to Judicial Watch.

The Energy Department documents, which provided the most detail, showed numerous meetings and written exchanges with industry groups.

The Department of Energy said it released the documents in consultation with the Department of Justice. Its search located 26,000 pages, "but much of this information is exempt from release under the law," DOE said in its release. Most contained draft versions of the energy plan, which DOE claimed were exempt under three provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Documents released show that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with utility executives before the White House released its energy policy.

One such meeting on April 17, 2001 was with Haley Barbour, a lobbyist representing utility giant Southern Co. and former head of the Republican National Committee.

On April 25, Abraham met with a group of unspecified "coal producers," in a meeting attended by White House energy policy director Andrew Lundquist.

White House senior advisor Karl Rove was invited to attend the meeting, but his presence was not be confirmed by the document. The White House could not confirm Rove's attendance.

And on Feb. 21, 2001 Abraham met with a group of oil company heads from ChevronTexaco, Shell Oil Co Ashland Inc., Anadarko Petroleum and the American Petroleum Institute.

In a release, Abraham said the documents show that his agency "not only sought but included all viewpoints."

The administration has been accused of locking environmental groups out of its energy policy formulation process.

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