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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Energy Task Force

Air Date: Week of

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A federal judge has ordered the Department of Energy to release more than 7,000 documents from the administration’s energy task force to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Host Steve Curwood speaks with NRDC’s David Hawkins, about what will be done with the information.


CURWOOD: Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force has been a secret affair since it first started meeting early in 2001. The task force presented its recommendations for a national energy plan to the Bush Administration in May. Its report heavily favored coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy. Since then, the task force has refused to release accounts of its meetings to the general public. In December, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit requesting the documents. Now, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the Energy Department must turn over to the NRDC more than 7500 papers relating to the task force.

With me now is David Hawkins, director of the Climate Change Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. David, welcome to Living on Earth.

HAWKINS: Thank you, Steve. Glad to be here.

CURWOOD: Why did the judge finally decide to order the release of these documents? What's the evidence that finally determined her ruling, do you think?

HAWKINS: Well, months of delay, I think, influenced the judge. The Bush Administration has been pressing for Congress to act on its energy policy. But, at the same time, it was stonewalling the public in an effort to find out why the government put forward the energy policy that it did; trying to hold secret the notes, the information, who it met with, which industry lobbyists influenced its policy.

I think the judge looked at this and said, "You can't have it both ways." If you're trying to get the Congress of the United States to adopt these policies, which are highly controversial, you need to be able to share with the public the public's business. And the government is the public's business.

CURWOOD: Now, once you get these documents, what are you going to be looking for?

HAWKINS: Well, first of all, we'll be looking to see who did the task force meet with. We'll be looking to see what arguments where presented to the Department of Energy, and to the task force. What information was presented by which industry lobbyists to backup those claims, if the claims can be backed up.

The White House has released information on a number of meetings it had with Enron company officials. But Enron is just the tip of the iceberg. So we'll be trying to examine the rest of the iceberg; all of those other energy lobbyists that got in to see the vice president, and his top aides, while they were ignoring the public.

CURWOOD: What do you think is in the rest of the iceberg? And why does it matter?

HAWKINS: Well, first, it matters because this is the public's business. The energy plan that was recommended by the vice president's task force is a grab bag of favors for special interests from highly polluting fossil fuel industries. It calls for billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for the heavy, old-fashioned, dirty fossil fuel industries, and only a pittance for the new, modern technologies such as efficiency and renewables.

It called for relaxing the Clean Air Act protections against air pollution from energy facilities. It called for no action to deal with gas-guzzling SUVs. It failed to call for any action to clean up America's dirty power plants. It called for drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. We want to know why the vice president's task force was so selective in picking all of these things.

CURWOOD: What option does the government have to appeal this ruling that you've gotten?

HAWKINS: Well, the government could file an appeal. But it appears that they have decided not to do so. And instead have agreed that they would comply with the court's order.

CURWOOD: Now that the judge has ruled, what's next in this process?

HAWKINS: Well, on March 25th, under the judge's order, the Department of Energy will have to turn over thousands of pages of documents. And we will be busy reviewing them, but also releasing them to the public. We will share this information with policymakers on Capitol Hill. We hope that the Senate of the United States would be interested in finding out about these documents, and would think that they are relevant to the decisions that the Senate is going to make on energy policy. We believe they are relevant. And we will be taking every effort to share these documents both with the public, and with members of Congress.

CURWOOD: David Hawkins is director of the Climate Change Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thanks for taking this time with us.

HAWKINS: Sure, Steve. Very glad to be with you.



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