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White House Told to Turn Over More Data on Energy Panel
Published on Saturday, August 3, 2002 in the Washington Post
White House Told to Turn Over More Data on Energy Panel
by Neely Tucker

A federal judge yesterday ordered the Bush administration to turn over more documents about its energy task force, as government lawyers noted that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell may have been among the senior officials attending some of the meetings.

The administration's arrogance can be amazing.

David Bookbinder
Sierra Club Attorney
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the Bush administration has 30 days to turn over documents and written responses to questions from two interest groups that have sued to know the names and positions of everyone who took part in the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Vice President Cheney.

The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch have alleged that the group improperly met with energy industry executives, including former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay, and ignored environmental groups in shaping the administration's energy policies. A significant part of the court order requires the administration to enumerate all of its contacts with nongovernment businesses or agencies.

Some federal agencies involved in the task force have already been ordered to turn over thousands of pages of documents about the group. But the Bush administration has balked at a July 11 order from Sullivan that it begin providing more detailed membership information, including White House records.

Sullivan was clearly exasperated yesterday with the government's claim that executive privilege, as well as the Administrative Procedures Act, shielded all such information from public review.

"We are able through a sworn declaration to say that the law was followed," said Shannen Coffin, the Justice Department lawyer presenting the case. "The plaintiffs should then come forward and suggest something that questions that presumption of regularity."

Sullivan scoffed at that, echoing complaints from fellow federal judge Gladys Kessler, who criticized a similar government position this year in a related lawsuit.

"Your position seems to be 'The government wins because the government says this is what happened, and no one can ask what happened,' " Sullivan said.

Coffin persisted, his voice slightly raised, in an effort to make himself heard over the judge.

Sullivan eventually shot back, "Don't interrupt me. Discovery is going to go forward in this case."

Coffin declined to comment further after the hearing.

The task force was created by executive order on Jan. 29, 2001, and disbanded on Sept. 30 of that year. Its senior level consisted of Cheney and the secretaries of the treasury, interior, agriculture, commerce, transportation and energy; the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; as well as aides and other administration officials.

Coffin said yesterday that Powell was an "optional" member and that the director of the Office of Management and Budget was also included.

David Bookbinder, senior attorney for the Sierra Club, and Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman described the ruling as a clear victory.

"The administration's arrogance can be amazing," Bookbinder said. "We want to see all these documents, and then we'll be able to tell what else we need."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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