Energy Dept. Says It Tried To Engage Green Groups

By Mike Allen Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, March 22, 2002

For months, environmental groups have complained that the White House gave them little opportunity to influence President Bush's energy policy, which was heavily weighted to the preferences of oil and coal companies.

On Monday, the Energy Department plans to claim in a huge court filing that administration officials tried doggedly to get the views of green groups, but the environmentalists were uncooperative.

"Several did not return our phone calls and messages," an Energy Department official wrote in an Aug. 10 memo that will be part of that filing. The official added that some of the groups rebuffed invitations by saying, "Check our Web site."

The Energy Department plans to file 7,000 to 14,000 documents in federal court Monday, offering the first detailed look at the inner workings of the energy task force led by Vice President Cheney. The White House has refused to provide the documents to Congress, prompting one of the biggest legal struggles between the executive and legislative branches since Watergate.

Environmental groups scoffed at the Energy Department's claim that invitations for their views had been ignored. Several of the groups said they unsuccessfully tried to meet with administration officials while the report was being written, and received hasty calls from the Energy Department only after Bush was criticized for soliciting only industry's opinions.

"Every environmental group used every tool and contact we could think of to get a meeting with them," said Elizabeth Thompson, legislative director of Environmental Defense. "My voice-mail wasn't full of a lot of requests from the administration."

The U.S. District Court in Washington ordered the records' release last month, charging that the government had been "woefully tardy" and was "working at a glacial pace" in answering a Freedom of Information Act request by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An administration source said the Energy Department will argue in the filing that environmental groups' input "was sought, considered and included" in the energy plan, despite claims by the groups that energy companies and Republican donors had more access to officials who wrote the policy. The administration asserts that it held "at least one substantive discussion" with 10 environmental groups in late March, prior to the release of the policy in May.

"In general, we encountered a lack of responsiveness to the offer to submit ideas," an Energy Department official wrote in the Aug. 10 letter to the General Accounting Office. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, has filed a separate lawsuit for records of Cheney's task force.

To try to bolster its contention that environmentalists' views were considered, the Energy Department will include in the filing a 36-page energy-policy proposal from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Also included will be a seven-page printout about energy policy from the Web site of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and a 20-page report from the House Democratic Caucus Energy Task Force, called "Principles for Energy Prosperity."

Jill Schroeder, a department spokeswoman, said Bush's goal had always been to develop a balanced energy policy.

"Industry groups of course were not lobbying for more conservation measures, and so we sought the expertise of the environmental groups," Schroeder said.

She said the department has no record of requests for meetings with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham from either NRDC or the Sierra Club.

A coalition of 30 environmental groups, including the NRDC and the Sierra Club, supplied copies of requests for meetings that the coalition said were sent to Cheney on Feb. 16 and Abraham on Feb. 20. The coalition said Abraham's office declined, citing his "busy schedule."

Instead, the environmental groups met with Andrew D. Lundquist, executive director of the energy task force, and other staff members. Cheney did not meet with environmental groups until a month after Bush had released the report.

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