The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) yesterday filed suit in federal court to force the Department of Energy to produce documents relating to the development of the Bush administration's energy policy.
The left-leaning environmental group now joins the conservative watchdog organization, Judicial Watch, in an effort to gain access via the courts to information they say should be public.
Judicial Watch filed suit in May against the Energy Department and other agencies, and in July against the National Energy Policy Development Group chaired by Vice President Cheney, demanding that the administration release records on who met with the task force and when.
The two groups are keeping the heat on the administration at a time when the General Accounting Office, led by Comptroller General David M. Walker, has put on hold its own legal challenge for the records. Energy legislation is pending on the Hill, and the groups say that now is the time to see who had a role in influencing it.
Both organizations see the administration's effort to withhold the records as part of a larger pattern of secrecy and as an abuse of executive power. The NRDC first requested the information in April under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It sued yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
"The public has a right to know who's trying to buy government policy. We've waited long enough. So we're going to court to get it," said Sharon Buccino, an NRDC attorney.
The administration contends that the Cheney task force is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to FOIA. However, the group is made up of the heads of various federal agencies directly subject to FOIA. So NRDC is suing the agency that has the most documents, the Energy Department.
The Energy Department has provided NRDC with "many of the documents" it has requested, is looking for the rest and has "fully complied" with all similar requests, department spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto said.
But Buccino said all the Energy Department has provided is a form letter sent out before the task force met. The agency has been saying for months that it is trying to find the rest of the documents, Buccino said.
White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan disputed the secrecy charges. "The administration is forthright and will continue to be forthright while ensuring it is acting in a deliberative manner," she said.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives last summer passed a comprehensive bill that reflected the task force's recommendations, including drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Last week, Senate Democratic leaders introduced a bill that did not include such a provision, instead focusing on conservation, efficiency and developing new energy sources. The legislation is expected to be debated next year.
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