The Department of Energy recently released documents related to Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Guest host Pippin Ross speaks with Natural Resources Defense Council’s attorney Sharon Buccino, who is reviewing the documents
ROSS: Welcome to Living on Earth. I'm Pippin Ross, sitting in for Steve Curwood. Last spring, as Vice President Dick Cheney's task force was crafting the National Energy Plan, several environmental groups and the General Accounting Office sued to get access to documents related to the development of the plan. This month, under a federal court order, the Department of Energy released 11,000 documents to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That leaves out more than half of the known documents. And of those that were released, many pages were blacked out.Those poring through the papers are convinced the Bush energy policy was shaped with disproportionate influence by industry groups, and little representation from consumer or environmental groups. Joining me is Sharon Buccino, lead attorney for the NRDC on this case. Sharon, what stands out about these documents?BUCCINO: I guess what stands out the most is what's missing. We got a lot of nothing. But, what we did get does reveal some very telling information about who wrote the Bush energy plan.ROSS: Can you give us some specific examples in which the energy industry appears to be playing a really significant role in the energy policy?BUCCINO: Well, one thing we found was an e-mail that came from the American Petroleum Institute. And attached to that was a draft Executive Order that looks very much like in structure, and is very similar in impact to the presidential Executive Order that was issued by President Bush shortly after the task force – in fact, a day after the task force recommendations came out.ROSS: So, it seems like it's almost verbatim?BUCCINO: It is identical in structure and impact. And there are some sections that are nearly verbatim.ROSS: Now, the DOE insists that they included nearly half of the recommendations from your group, the NRDC, in the energy plan. Is that accurate?BUCCINO: Well that's an outright lie. It just cannot be supported by the facts. If you look at some of the specifics, for example, they take credit for adopting our recommendation that fuel economy standards for automobiles be increased. What the task force recommendation actually is, is that those standards be studied. And we have been studying those standards for a long time now, without acting to significantly increase them.ROSS: Sharon, let me just play devil's advocate here. You know, there's nothing that says the administration has to talk to everyone. In fact, Ari Fleischer, the Bush administration spokesperson, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "News flash. It's no surprise that the Secretary of Energy meets with energy-related groups." How do you respond to that?BUCCINO: Well I think the issue here is that the public's business should be public. The administration is free to meet with whomever they want. But the public deserves to know who they met with, when they met with them, who bought and paid for the energy plan that is not only now being considered by congress, but also being implemented on the ground by a variety of federal agencies. ROSS: So you feel that the energy-related groups got real audience and dialogue, and that you guys got short shrift. BUCCINO: That's right. And you can see that in the documents we got. It's quite telling. What there's a lot of in these documents are e-mails. There's a barrage of e-mail going back and forth between industry representatives and government officials. A lot of times, you see first names. They're also asking about when they can set up their next lunch. And that is the kind of access that environmentalists just have not had.ROSS: Now, what's going to be your next step? BUCCINO: We're still going through the thousands of pages we found. We have gone back to court to require that the Energy Department explain to the judge why they should not be held in contempt for their actions so far. ROSS: And do you feel like you're under a real time restraint?BUCCINO: Well, we've been working hard. We've been fighting for over 11 months now to get this information. There's a real urgency to the information because Congress is already acting on recommendations that the task force made. The numerous federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, for example, has an entire blueprint of 40 tasks they have identified to implement the Bush energy plan. So the plan is moving forward. And, there's a real urgency to get this information out into the public. So we're working day and night to make that happen. ROSS: Do you think Congress is going to adopt the plan?BUCCINO: The House has already passed legislation, HR-4, that incorporates many of the task force recommendations. The Senate is now considering legislation. The bill that Senator Daschle introduced started out, I think, as a pretty good bill. It has been watered down by amendments by the same industry representatives whose fingerprints are all over the task force recommendations.ROSS: Sharon Buccino is lead attorney for the NRDC. Thank you so much, Sharon.BUCCINO: Thank you. I enjoyed the opportunity.
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