Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with 36 representatives of business interests and many campaign contributors while developing President Bush's energy policy, and he held no meetings with conservation or consumer groups, documents released last night show.
The information was released by the Energy Department just a few hours before a court-ordered deadline, and after 11 months of resistance by the administration to lawsuits by public interest groups seeking to determine who influenced the writing of the administration's energy plan.
A first review of the 11,000 pages of documents bolsters the contention of Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups that the Bush administration relied almost exclusively on the advice of executives from utilities and producers of oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy while a White House task force drafted recommendations that would vastly increase energy production.
Of the corporations that met with Abraham, all but a few were large contributors of unregulated soft money to the Republican Party during the 2000 election cycle.
Of the corporations that met with Abraham, all but a few were large contributors of unregulated soft money to the Republican Party during the 2000 election cycle. A dozen of the companies that had meetings with Abraham contributed $1.2 million to the GOP, mainly for Bush's election. Ten of the 12 gave more soft money to Republicans than Democrats.
Large portions had been deleted from the documents released last night by the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agriculture Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Most attachments were missing and in many cases documents were withheld except for the subject line. Thousands of other documents were withheld entirely, and the groups that won release of the documents through lawsuits said they may return to court.
Abraham's meetings, between Feb. 14 and April 26 of last year, included groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Nuclear Energy Institute. Top executives of Westinghouse Electric Corp., Duke Power, Entergy, Exelon Corp., UtiliCorp United (now Aquila Inc.), American Coal Co. and others sat down with Abraham.
Environmental groups said their efforts to meet with the energy task force were rebuffed. The Energy Department has said that environmental groups did not respond to its request for input, and the administration has said it held at least one substantive discussion with 10 environmental groups in late March, prior to the May release of the energy policy.
Because of the deletions and omissions, there is little information about what the donors and business interests were seeking in their high-level meetings. The documents released include hundreds of unsolicited suggestions from citizens, companies and lawmakers, most of whom received form responses promising the ideas would receive "close and careful attention."
Among the items released is a letter from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers favoring tax credits for hybrid-fuel and fuel-cell vehicles and similar incentives for fuel efficiency that were included in the Bush energy report.
One company, Citgo, urged the administration "to exercise federal authority to prevent states" from establishing separate fuel standards. These "boutique fuels" cause distribution problems for the industry, and Bush's energy plan directed the EPA to work with states to eliminate them.
An Energy Department e-mail indicating close coordination with industry notes that Texaco was seeking to help Bush's energy policy rollout. Texaco "has offered to try to produce an announcement on a 1500 megawatt facility at a TVA site in harmony with such a rollout," the May 7 e-mail said.
"Finally there is some evidence of who was actually shaping the energy policy," said Sharon Buccino, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which won the court order on Feb. 27 requiring the Energy Department's information release.
Buccino said the group plans to challenge many of the omissions in court. The Energy Department released a chart suggesting Vice President Cheney's task force had adopted nine NRDC recommendations, which Buccino called "an outright lie." Another 15,000 pages were withheld for privacy, security and other reasons, Energy officials said.
Larry Klayman, chairman of Judicial Watch, the watchdog group that won the court order requiring the OMB, EPA and Agriculture releases, said the White House appeared to be "playing games" with the release. He said he expects to "go back to court to seek testimony as to why we don't have the substantive e-mails."
Trent Duffy, OMB's spokesman, would not explain the deletions beyond saying, "The items that were part of the deliberative process were redacted."
Abraham issued a statement calling the energy plan "a balanced and comprehensive energy plan for America," and said that the administration "not only sought but included all viewpoints."
Several of the documents indicate that officials were aware of efforts to obtain information about their actions under the Freedom of Information Act, and they adjusted their correspondence to limit the release of materials. "We have an FOI request for all NEPP material," said one April 25 e-mail, referring to the task force. "Keep in mind that whatever I get I will have to include with it." Another e-mail about the FOIA requests asked, "Did you want me to include Kyle?" -- an apparent reference to Abraham's chief of staff, Kyle McSlarrow, whose e-mails were not included in the release.
Abraham held meetings with more than 20 other heads of oil companies and energy trade groups while the report was being written, but the Energy Department said those meetings included other topics.
Abraham's staff had several meetings with Enron officials, the documents showed. Enron, a major Bush donor that collapsed late last year and is facing a criminal probe, met with other representatives of the task force six times, the administration has disclosed. Energy Department officials said most of their meetings with Enron were not related to the energy policy. Abraham met with two Enron executives on March 29 as part of a meeting of 16 industry officials about the California electricity shortage. Energy officials said Abraham declined requests for meetings with Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay of Enron Corp.
The OMB materials that were released also indicate the energy task force's emphasis on production over conservation. One e-mail from Feb. 22 listed seven chapters for the energy policy report: short-term supply disruptions, consumers, economic impact, alternatives, increased production, infrastructure and energy security. There was no mention of conservation. An e-mail from March 22 made reference to an "energy efficiency" chapter, and a March 27 e-mail indicates that an "environment chapter" had been included. By April 2, there were "energy conservation targets."
The Energy Department documents indicate a late surge of activity to include more renewable fuels in the energy report. Karen Knutson, the deputy director of the task force, wrote to the Energy Department on April 27 seeking information about solar energy.
The OMB documents indicate Bush was involved in the shaping of the report well before it was released May 16. The task force briefed him on March 19, a schedule indicates, and a final report was circulated on April 23.
The e-mails also indicate that the task force was involved in Bush's March 13 decision to reverse a campaign pledge to characterize carbon dioxide as a pollutant that should be restricted, a position shared by environmental groups. A March 7 e-mail among task force staffers refers to "CO2 as a Pollutant." Ultimately, the report did not take a position on whether to raise fuel economy standards for vehicles, but the e-mails indicate there was extensive work on making recommendations about the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.
The EPA and Agriculture documents were also stripped of content except for meeting and publication schedules and interoffice chatter and bureaucratic fencing. "Lots of typos and the like," said an EPA official, "but I assume they'll catch those."
A long redacted section in one memo closed with a comment, "just kidding -- Mona."
Included among stacks of documents from the EPA and Agriculture Department were a few position papers from industry groups, including the Fertilizer Institute and the Clean Energy Group -- a coalition of electric power companies urging a "reasonable time frame" for pollution control strategies. Their pitches to the administration appeared to be familiar agendas the groups have lobbied for and testified about many times.
The subject lines on thousands of pages of government e-mail traffic described the wide horizon of energy and resource issues, from "boutique" gasolines blended for a particular region's needs to rules on offshore drilling disputes.
The documents released indicated some dissension about how the energy report was assembled. A March 28 OMB e-mail requests that "if you see any particularly egregious recommendations that you alert me to by tomorrow 10:30 . . . . I could raise it in the meeting to highlight the process problems." A Feb. 26 e-mail states: "The agency/chapter meetings got a little discombobulated."
Bush's energy plan encourages increased production of fossil fuels, including relaxed regulations and subsidies for the coal and nuclear industries, oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and construction of 1,300 to 1,900 power plants over the next 20 years.
Most of Bush's energy recommendations were incorporated in a bill that passed the House in August after heavy lobbying from labor unions. The Senate has begun debating its version and is expected to take up the most controversial part, the Arctic drilling, when lawmakers return from recess in two weeks.
Large donors meeting with Abraham included Duke Energy, which contributed $61,500 in soft money, all to the GOP, according to figures kept by the Center for Responsive Politics. Constellation Energy gave $38,950, all to the GOP. Northeast Utilities contributed $43,580, all but $2,000 to the GOP. UtiliCorp United gave $66,000, all to the Republicans. American Coal Co. gave $20,500, all to the GOP. Kerr-McGee gave $240,350, all but $20,000 to Republicans. Exelon Corp. gave $454,305, 74 percent to the Republicans.
Staff writers Peter Behr and Dan Morgan contributed to this report.
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