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Cheney, Energy Task Force Defies GAO

by J.A. Savage

Energy execs had private meeting with Cheney
The Bush-Cheney energy plan that features increasing reliance on nuclear power, more fossil fuel use and a lack of emphasis on renewable energy and conservation was developed by .......whom? Not even the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the federal government can find out.

The General Accounting Office has been trying to find out the identity of the civilian members of the energy task force, the agenda of the task force's meetings, meeting duration and place since April on behalf of Congressmembers Henry Waxman (D-California) and Dan Burton (R-Indiana) of the Committee on Government Reform. The Vice President's office maintains that the work was "pre-decisional" and not subject to public disclosure.

"We are troubled by your insufficient response to a straightforward request for information by elected members of the Legislative branch. Your actions only serve to deepen public suspicion over the Administration's apparent efforts to shield the membership and deliberations of the task force and its staff from public scrutiny," the Congressmembers wrote to the vice president.

Most assume that the private citizens helping draw up that plan included CEOs and other high-ranking executives in energy-related corporations. This much is known: energy execs had far more access to Cheney and his task force than consumer advoicates and environmentalists enjoyed.

Top officials of Enron Corporation, the single largest contributor to Bush's presidential campaign (see MONITOR story), were granted a private half hour meeting with Cheney. By contrast, about two dozen enviro groups, including the NRDC, were only allowed a group meeting with staffers.

"We asked who the deputies were on different issues so we could have more in-depth conversations, and they wouldn't tell us," Alys Campaigne, NRDC legislative director told the New York Times. "They said, 'just send us paper, we'll take a look at it.' The meeting felt like window dressing for us."

Refusal to cooperate is very rare
The GAO has amazing ability to procure information from all sectors in normal operations -- far better than journalists or lawyers. Rarely do public officials refuse to cooperate.

"It doesn't happen very often -- only about 30 times since 1921" that the GAO doesn't get what it asks for, said Bob Robinson, GAO managing director for natural resources and environment. "Most of the time it works" to just request the information.

Others have been trying to pry information from the Vice President's Energy Task Force. The Natural Resources Defense Council has had standing Freedom of Information Act request for the same information also since April. Not only did the Vice President's office deny almost the entire request, it wanted to levy a price on the teensy little bit of information it did divulge. Costs are nearly always waived for the media and non-profit organizations like NRDC. After appealing, NRDC did get the fees waived -- but didn't get the information.

The next step for the GAO is a "demand letter," a move that takes the request out of the administrative realm into the legal realm. That is expected in mid-July. "We believe we have legal authority to any documentation we've requested. Who met with who, when and how long," Robinson maintained.

Also supporting public revelation of the Energy Task Force is W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-Louisana) and John Dingell (D-Michigan) of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Nuclear Power Industry Seeks Life Extension For Aging Plant
In addition to the much-reported reliance on drilling for oil in Alaska, the Bush-Cheney energy plan has an interesting twist on supporting nuclear power. Bush's plan does not solely rely on building new nuclear reactors, as that remains a politically thorny issue, but expanding current ones.

"There is potential for even greater generation from existing nuclear energy plants. Experts estimate that 2,000 MW could be added from existing nuclear power plants by increasing operating performance to 92 percent. In addition, about 12,000 MW of additional nuclear electricity generation could be derived from uprating US nuclear power plants, a process that uses new technologies and methods to increase rated power levels without decreasing safety," noted the policy.

Bush also wants existing plants to be re-licensed for longer lives.

Successful at changing tax laws for individuals, Bush also wants to change tax laws for decommissioning funds to make it easier for companies to buy nuclear plants and their attendant "pension" funds. Those funds are supposed to be used to permanently bury nuclear reactors, but have recently been seen as a source of cash for companies that acquire existing plants.

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Albion Monitor July 9, 2001 (

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