Energy Secretary Met With Industry Reps, but Not Environmentalists

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met with three dozen industry executives in eight private meetings to discuss issues that eventually led to the policy that emerged from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, but he did not meet with energy efficiency advocates, thousands of records of Energy Department contacts reveal.

Abraham did not meet with advocates of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, according to the documents, which were released before a midnight deadline Tuesday.

However, Abraham said in a statement that the documents "will further confirm" that the administration did seek out a wide range of views, including those of environmentalists. The papers range from daily schedules to congressional testimony.

Countless trees were shredded in order to produce the 11,000 pages of documents demanded by critics of the administration's energy policies. More than 3,000 pages came from the Energy Department, and another 4,000 documents were released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The documents were ordered released by two federal judges as part of lawsuits brought by private groups trying to determine who influenced the administration's energy plan.

Critics were concerned that the energy industry, including corporations that made substantial donations to President Bush's election campaign, were given top-level access while conservationists were given lip service.

Officials indicated that they tried to get meetings with the heads of environmental groups but were never able to meet schedule demands; the Energy Department release did include policy statements taken from groups such as the Wilderness Society.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said no one should be shocked by the report since Abraham was following his job duties.

"News flash: it's no surprise to anybody that the secretary of energy meets with energy-related groups," Fleischer told reporters.

He added that 42 of the of the vice president's 105 recommendations dealt with conservation and the environment.

The released documents revealed that 23 meeting requests were denied by industry representatives, including Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling of Enron Corp.

Abraham, who was on Cheney's task force, did discuss electricity deregulation with a top executive of the American Coal Co., officials of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the chairman of Utilicorp, a major power company.

He also discussed nuclear energy with the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the chairman of Westinghouse and the chief executives of a half-dozen major nuclear power utilities.

Also among the papers were EPA documents revealing an oil industry push to ease state regulation of so-called "boutique" gasoline blends and auto industry pressure to ease federal fuel economy rules.

One of the oil companies, Citco, urged the administration "to exercise federal authority to prevent states" from establishing separate fuel standards. The Cheney task force urged EPA to deal with the boutique fuels issue.

The papers also included a three-page memo from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers declaring that the federal auto fuel economy rule, known as CAFE, "is an ineffective energy policy."

The alliance instead supported consumer tax credits for advanced technology vehicles and urged development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The task force report supported such tax benefits, refrained from urging higher fuel economy requirements and urged development of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Southern Company, an Atlanta-based power conglomerate, e-mailed Joe Kelliher, the DOE's point man on the Cheney task force, the reasons why the administration should revamp a clean air regulation known as "New Source Review," which is at the heart of a series of ongoing lawsuits against Southern and several other utilities.

"I hope this is helpful," the utility official, Michael Riith, wrote Kelliher, adding, "I look forward to lunch on Tuesday."

The Cheney task force called for the EPA to review the clean air regulation -- a review expected to lead to its being eased.

The Energy Department withheld 15,000 pages from the Freedom of Information Act citation, saying the material was exempted because of internal agency practices, deliberations and personnel.

The administration also faces a similar lawsuit by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. That lawsuit was not involved in Monday's releases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.