Environmentalists Say Their Request for Energy Meeting Was Rebuffed

Environmentalists said Wednesday they had requested a meeting with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in the months prior to release of the administration's energy report but were rebuffed by an aide who cited Abraham's busy schedule.

John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the refusal to meet with the environmentalists stands in sharp contrast to the eight meetings Abraham had with energy and business groups in early 2001 to discuss the energy plan.

Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force issued its report in May.

"Big energy companies all but held the pencil for the [energy] task force," Adams said at a news conference where NRDC attorneys discussed some of the 11,000 pages of documents the Energy Department provided the group under a court order.

The documents, released Monday, included a calendar schedule that showed Abraham's meetings with representatives of nuclear, oil, natural gas, electric utility and manufacturing groups.

"It should come as a surprise to no one that the energy secretary consults with energy experts," said DOE spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto. "That is his job, that is something we have done from day one."

"What's the news?" asked Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the Senate minority leader.

"The Energy Department talked to people who can produce more energy; EPA talked to people about environmental issues; and Interior reviewed public lands information. Focusing the task force's attention ... seems to have made for an efficient operation."

NRDC attorney Sharon Buccino said the documents released Monday in response to an NRDC lawsuit were "scrubbed, purged and sanitized" but still provide the "first hard evidence" of the influence the energy industry had in crafting the Cheney energy report.

But she said NRDC was filing papers with the federal court seeking a hearing to get additional documents released. She expressed astonishment that among the 11,000 pages she could find only one document mentioning Enron, which had been an aggressive advocate on energy issues in Washington before it collapse.

"We're in court asking for what was left out," said Buccino.

The Energy Department, in releasing the documents, maintained that it had sought out environmental organizations, but suggested a lack of interest. "Even though contact was sometimes unsuccessful, DOE actively sought all viewpoints," the department said.

"That's the biggest lie since Richard Nixon," snapped Buccino.

The NRDC released a letter, dated Feb. 20, 2001, from the Green Group, a coalition of the major environmental organizations, that asked Abraham "to set aside a short while [in mid-March] to discuss important energy and environmental concerns."

The letter was signed by Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense. A few days after it was sent, Abraham's appointments secretary called to say Abraham was too busy, according to the environmentalists.

In March, Abraham held separate meetings with groups representing the nuclear industry, the oil industry and public utility industries to discuss the energy task force, according to the papers released this week.

The environmentalists also asked to meet with Cheney, but that request too was denied. Instead, members of the Green Group met with Andrew Lundquist, the task force director, on April 4.