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

Waxman Demands Probe

Air Date: Week of

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Host Steve Curwood speaks with California Congressman Henry Waxman about why he has called for an investigation into the Bush administrations energy task force.


CURWOOD: By now, the content of the Bush administration's energy plan has been well-dissected and debated. But how that energy plan was created is still shrouded in secrecy and very much in the news. Two Democratic Congressmen are requesting information about the task force and what the decision-making process was inside that group. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has agreed to look into the matter. I am joined now by one of the petitioners, Representative Henry Waxman from California. Hello, Sir.

WAXMAN: Hello.

CURWOOD: Now, the Vice President's office, I understand, has given you some of the information that you and Representative John Dingell requested. What is it that you still want to know about the Energy Policy Task Force?

WAXMAN: We've asked the General Accounting Office to investigate questions such as: Who was on the task force? Who has met with the task force? The costs the task force has incurred. And astonishingly, this week, the task force asked the GAO to stop its inquiry and declined to respond to their request for basic information. When we had the Clinton administration set up a task force to organize their health plan, the Republicans went crazy, and they demanded the right to know everything. They had subpoenas and they had lawsuits. And you have to look at that and the stark contrast to the way the Congressional Republicans are looking at this issue. They could care less that this task force may be meeting only with the energy providers, but not with consumers or environmentalists.

CURWOOD: In your letters to the GAO and the Vice President's office, you write that, quote, "The process of energy policy development needs sunshine." Congressman, what do you mean by that?

WAXMAN: I think that when an administration makes a proposal, we ought to get the full benefit that their task force had of hearing the arguments so that we can evaluate them, and also understanding the reasoning behind it. And if the administration directs its policy and develops its positions based on these secret meetings with these special interest groups, without even giving an opportunity for others to be heard and to evaluate their arguments, I think the American people ought to know about it and look at their proposals in that light. That they're not genuine proposals that deal with our national needs. They are proposals that deal with the needs of their major contributors.

CURWOOD: Now, some would say, look. When government bodies come together they sometimes need to deliberate in secret. The Supreme Court doesn't have outside observers come. What's dangerous about having these kinds of policy decisions being made behind closed doors?

WAXMAN: The Vice President, the President, should be able to talk with each other. They ought to be able to talk to their cabinet officials behind closed doors, in a very candid way, without anybody having access to that. But if they have a task force, well, we ought to know who's on that task force. What kind of information are they getting? It's not a judicial function, which is what the Supreme Court would do when they meet behind closed doors. It's what ought to be a transparent process so the public can evaluate the arguments that are made and participate through influencing their elected officials, not only the Congress but the President of the United States and people in his administration. It's a perversion and distortion of the whole idea of executive privilege.

CURWOOD: Now, you must have some information about who, in fact, attended these sessions of the task force and participated. What do you know? Who, in fact, was there, and what was the balance of the spectrum of the stakeholders who were represented?

WAXMAN: We do know that the big oil, big gas, coal, the industry people, have been well-represented in the deliberations within the administration. But we also know that those industry groups gave millions of dollars to the Republican campaign. So they got special treatment. But not only special treatment, they got a one-sided opportunity to give their point of view. They were the only ones that were given an audience. Maybe the administration doesn't even realize it, but when you only hear from one side you start thinking that that's the full story. .You start accepting that point of view.

CURWOOD: Congressman, recently the Peabody Coal Company, one of the biggest coal companies in the world, made an initial public offering of their stock to raise almost half a billion dollars. This all happened just after an energy plan really boosting the prospects of coal came out. This company has made substantial contributions in soft money to Republicans recently. Some investigative types would say something could be going on here. What's your response?

WAXMAN: I don't know the answer to whether there was any collusion with a government announcement and the issuing of the stock. But I know that there are investors that watch very carefully the tea leaves and the announcements of government policy, and, as a consequence, see a stock go up or down based on those announcements. So, they might have guessed that the energy policy was going to be so favorable to coal and took advantage of it. Or they may well have had inside information. It could be that the people in the coal industry, maybe even from Peabody, were on the task force. That's one of the reasons we ought to have the information as to who was on the task force and who was giving them information.

CURWOOD: California Democrat Henry Waxman is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform. Thank you for speaking with us today, Congressman.

WAXMAN: Thank you for your interest.

CURWOOD: A spokesman from Peabody Energy Corporation told Living on Earth that the company's chairman and CEO, along with the vice president for technology and environment, did participate in the Bush administration's transition team. But the spokesman could not confirm whether anyone from Peabody had attended any energy task force meetings. The spokesman did verify that Peabody Coal contributed about a quarter of a million dollars to Republican campaigns between 1999 and 2000.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: It was supposed to taste better and last longer. The rise and fall of genetic engineering's Flavr Savr tomato. First, this environmental health note from Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under: Allison Dean, "Health Note Theme")



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