- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

Leading environmentalists yesterday backed off charges that the Bush administration did not consult them in drafting its energy plan, but continued to press their case for full disclosure of executive deliberations.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, the lead environmental group suing the administration for disclosure of its energy task-force contacts, abandoned its year-long complaint against the administration amid evidence released this week that the Energy Department reached out for advice from environmentalist groups and in some cases got snubbed.
The NRDC yesterday conceded that the department obtained its recommendations and weighed them in drafting its energy plan. And the NRDC revealed it had three more previously undisclosed meetings with top energy task-force officials last year while the energy plan was being drafted.
Two of those meetings were early in the drafting process, throwing into question the latest charge by environmentalists that they were left out until the very end. The NRDC and other environmental groups previously complained that they didn't meet with task force director Andrew Lundquist until April 4, well after the administration consulted with industry executives.
But yesterday the NRDC said its senior scientist Dan Lashoff met with Mr. Lundquist much earlier, on March 7, when they discussed alternative-fuel technologies along with representatives from the Ford Motor Co., Environmental Defense and Union of Concerned Scientists. Mr. Lashoff met with Mr. Lundquist again on May 11 to discuss energy efficiency.
Also "early last year," the NRDC's energy expert, Patricio Silva, met with Karen Knudson, Mr. Lundquist's deputy, to discuss air-conditioning efficiency standards and energy-budget priorities, the environmental group disclosed.
These contacts show not only that the group participated in the energy deliberations earlier, but more frequently than previously admitted. The NRDC contends the May 11 meeting was too late to affect the task-force report, which was released on May 17.
High-level contacts notwithstanding, the NRDC continued to lambaste the administration yesterday for giving more weight to industry recommendations than environmentalists' demands.
Sharon Buccino, an NRDC attorney, said 11,000 pages of documents released by the Energy Department Monday "confirmed what everybody suspected: the White House worked in tandem with a few industry friends and favorite donors to craft a plan that overwhelmingly benefits corporate interests."
As an example, Ms. Buccino cited evidence that the administration adopted almost verbatim an American Petroleum Institute proposal to issue an executive order requiring agencies to consider the energy impact of their regulations.
The NRDC yesterday asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ordered the release of the documents in February, to compel the department to turn over another 15,000 pages of documents before a previously set April 10 deadline.
The environmental group and Judicial Watch, a government watchdog that joined in suing the administration, are promising to contest the administration's decision to blank out the vast majority of internal communications in the documents they released.
"They can withhold opinion, but they cannot withhold factual material," said Larry Klayman, executive director of Judicial Watch. He said the secrecy issues are "exactly the same" as those conservatives raised with former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care task force in 1993.
"What's good for the goose is good for the gander. It would be hypocritical to take any other position now," he said.
Mr. Klayman agreed with environmentalists that the Energy Department documents released this week show "much more consultation with energy interests than environmentalists."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said the administration followed the proper procedures.
"The Energy Department talked to people who can produce more energy; EPA talked to people about environmental issues. … Then they all pooled their findings," and the result was a "comprehensive and balanced plan," the Mississippi Republican said.

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