- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean has demanded the release of the deliberations of Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force. But as Vermont governor, Mr. Dean had an energy task force that met in secret and angered state lawmakers.

Mr. Dean’s group held one public hearing and volunteered the names of industry executives and liberal advocates it consulted in private — after the fact, but the Vermont governor refused to open the closed-door deliberations of the task force on restructuring the state’s near-bankrupt electric utilities.

In 1999, Mr. Dean offered the same argument that the Bush administration uses today for keeping deliberations of a policy task force secret.

“The governor needs to receive advice from time to time in closed session. As every person in government knows, sometimes you get more open discussion when it’s not public,” Mr. Dean was quoted as saying.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Dean defended his recent criticism of Mr. Cheney’s task force and his demand that the administration release its private energy deliberations even though he refused to do that in Vermont.

Mr. Dean said his group developed better policy, was bipartisan and sought advice not just from energy executives, but environmentalists and low-income advocates.

He said his task force was more open because it held a public hearing and divulged afterward the names of people it consulted even though the content of discussions with them was kept secret.

The Vermont task force “is not exactly the Cheney thing,” Mr. Dean said. “We had a much more open process than Cheney’s process. We named the people we sought advice from in our final report.”

Mr. Dean said he still thinks it was necessary to keep deliberations of the task force secret, especially because the group was reviewing proprietary financial data from Vermont utilities.

“Some advice does have to be given in private, but I don’t mind letting people know who gave that advice,” he said.

The Dean campaign said it was “laughable” to compare the two.

“Governor Dean confronted and averted an energy crisis that would have had disastrous consequences for the citizens of Vermont by bringing together a bipartisan and ideologically diverse working group that solved the problem. Dick Cheney put together a group of his corporate cronies and partisan political contributors, and they gave themselves billions and disguised it as a national energy policy,” spokesman Jay Carson said yesterday.

In September, Mr. Dean argued that the task force and the Bush energy policy were unduly influenced by Bush family friend and then-Enron energy chief Kenneth Lay.

“The administration should also level with the American people about just how much influence Ken Lay and his industry buddies had over the development of the president’s energy policy by releasing notes on the deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force,” Mr. Dean said Sept. 15.

In 1998, Mr. Dean’s Vermont task force met in secret to write a plan for revamping state electricity markets that would slow rising consumer costs and relieve utilities of a money-losing deal with a Canadian company.

The task force’s work resulted in Vermont’s having the first utility in the country to meet energy-efficiency standards. It also freed the state’s utilities from their deal with a Canadian power company, Hydro Quebec, that had left them near bankruptcy but passed as much as 90 percent of those costs to consumers. Utility shareholders also suffered some losses.

The parallels between the Cheney and Dean task forces are many.

Both declined to open their deliberations, even under pressure from legislators. Both received input from the energy industry in private meetings and released the names of members of the task force publicly.

Mr. Dean’s group volunteered the names of those it consulted with in its final report. Although Mr. Cheney has refused to give a list to Congress formally to preserve executive privilege, his aides have divulged to reporters the names of many from whom the task force sought advice.

President Bush’s campaign and the Republican Party received millions in donations from energy interests in the election before its task force was created. Mr. Dean’s Vermont re-election campaign received only small contributions from energy executives, but a political action committee created as he prepared to run for president collected $19,000, or nearly one-fifth of its first $110,000, from donors tied to Vermont’s electric utilities.

One co-chairman of Mr. Dean’s task force, William Gilbert, was a Republican Vermont lawyer who had done work for state utilities. At the time, Mr. Gilbert also served on the board of Vermont Gas Systems, a subsidiary of the Canadian power giant Hydro Quebec.

Many state legislators, including Mr. Dean’s fellow Democrats, were angered that the task force met secretly.

“It taints the whole report,” Democratic state Rep. Al Stevens told AP in 1999. “I’d have more faith in that report if the discussions had been open.”

Elizabeth Bankowski, who served as the other co-chairman of the task force, told the legislature that the requirement the task force meet in secret “was decided in advance by the governor’s office and the governor’s lawyer.”

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