- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A federal judge has ordered the Energy Department to release thousands of records on Vice President Richard B. Cheney's energy task force to a liberal environmental group, criticizing the government for moving at "a glacial pace."
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Energy Department, starting March 25 and ending April 10, to turn over its documents to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The department had asked to release the material in stages, beginning March 15 and ending May 15.
NRDC first asked for the documents last April 26 and sued the government in December. The Energy Department says 7,500 pages on Mr. Cheney's task force are responsive to the NRDC's request.
"There can be little question that the Department of Energy has been woefully tardy" in processing the request, Judge Kessler wrote in her ruling, which was dated Feb. 21 and was provided to the NRDC yesterday.
"After making a virtually meaningless release of some form letters back in May of 2001, the department has done little of substance apart from collecting and organizing responsive documents," Judge Kessler added. "What is even more distressing is that" there were at least 11 other requests for the same documents. The government has no legal justification "for working at a glacial pace," she concluded.
Energy Department spokeswoman Jill Schroeder said, "We've always said we would comply with their request and have worked diligently to do so."
The lawsuit will continue because the department maintains it has legal grounds to keep some documents secret.
The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, and Judicial Watch, a conservative public-interest law firm, have filed separate lawsuits trying to force the White House to turn over material on the energy task force.
The Bush administration cited confidentiality in its efforts against the GAO lawsuit, which sought the names of industry executives and lobbyists who met with White House officials as they formulated its energy plan last spring.
The Energy Department and other federal agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, while the White House is not.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was on Mr. Cheney's task force and the government must release information about which industry representatives met with energy officials, said NRDC attorney Sharon Buccino.
"The significance of this information for us is that it is going to expose the Bush energy plan's purpose as a payback to polluters," she said. "The plan benefited Enron and other big energy companies while doing nothing for public health and the environment."


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