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Energy Dept. releases policy review documents

Energy Dept. releases policy review documents

From John King
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Energy Department Monday released more than 11,000 pages of documents collected and generated during the Bush administration's controversial energy policy review, but said it was withholding an additional 15,000 pages sought in legal challenges because it considered them exempt from laws governing public release of government records.

The Energy Department action is separate from the General Accounting Office lawsuit seeking many of the same materials from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House officials say the department's release of materials will in no way affect the administration's defense of its privacy rights in that lawsuit.

The 11,000 pages were requested by 17 groups through legal action and Freedom of Information Act requests to the Energy Department. Justice Department lawyers assisted in the search and helped advise the department on which records could be exempted from public release.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the conservative legal foundation Judicial Watch, two of the groups that sued for access to the records, were immediately critical of the Energy Department on grounds it was withholding too many records and also on grounds that some documents were redacted to block some information they contained from public release.

The records released show an array of consultations between Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and energy companies and interests with huge stakes in the administration policy review, including coal and nuclear interests, major utilities, petroleum and mining interests.

The logs also include a list of requested meetings with Secretary Abraham to discuss the energy plan that were declined, including requests from two Enron officials, a July 31, 2001 request from Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay and a July 12, 2001, request from Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

Enron's ties to the administration are but one major avenue of congressional inquiries related either to the National Energy Policy review or the collapse of Enron.

The documents also show Abraham attended eight meetings of the Cheney task force that shaped the policy, and another seven meetings with task force and/or White House staff to discuss the emerging policy.

The records also include position papers from a variety of energy and environmental interests that were submitted to the department during the policy review; the Energy Department noted in a news release accompanying the documents that an NRDC plan was among the documents being released to the groups that had sued -- the NRDC a leading party among them.

And the department said a review of the document would show that nine of its 19 recommendations were accepted by the administration task force.

Department officials say it should come as no surprise that Secretary Abraham and others met a number of times with energy industry officials and interests as they debated a new administration energy policy.

And these officials said that, while many industry recommendations were embraced, many were discarded as well, and insisted there was no evidence of favoritism.

"The information released today will only confirm that it was indeed a balanced plan that not only sought but included all viewpoints," Abraham said in a statement. "It assures the American people that it was an open and appropriate process."

The department countered its critics who alleged a pro-industry bias by saying it had accepted nine of 19 NRDC recommendations but only four of 25 suggestions made by the American Petroleum Institute, and just two of 20 from the National Mining Association.

The department said the 15,000 documents withheld fell into several categories that allowed the government to exempt them from public release, including drafts of internal policy deliberations and personal information such as personal telephone numbers or e-mail addresses. The department said it also withheld documents detailing DOE security programs.


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