- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A lawsuit seeking to force Vice President Dick Cheney to reveal details about the energy policy task force he headed was scuttled yesterday by a federal appeals court.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously found that two private groups that sued Mr. Cheney failed to establish that the federal government had a legal duty to produce documents detailing the White House’s contacts with business executives and lobbyists.

The lawsuit, filed by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, asserted that energy industry officials effectively became members of the task force, while environmental groups and others were shut out of the meetings. It also argued that the task force was a federal advisory committee with an obligation to publicly disclose its operations.

The appeals court disagreed. “There is nothing to indicate that nonfederal employees had a right to vote on committee matters or exercise a veto over committee proposals,” it said. The court ordered a lower court to dismiss the case.

Mr. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee and “it follows that the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” said the opinion by Judge A. Raymond Randolph.

The vice president’s task force met for several months in 2001 and issued a report that favored opening more public lands to oil and gas drilling and proposed a range of other steps supported by industry. The recommendations formed the basis of the energy legislation now before Congress.

The Bush administration has succeeded in keeping secret the influence that the energy industry had in crafting the government’s energy policy, said David Bookbinder, a senior attorney at the Sierra Club.

“The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government,” Mr. Bookbinder said.

The court’s decision will help preserve the confidentiality of internal deliberations among the president and his senior advisers that the Constitution protects as essential and wise to informed decision-making, Mr. Cheney’s office said.

In January arguments before the appeals court, Justice Department lawyer Paul Clement argued that forcing the White House to produce any documents about the task force would be an “unconstitutional and unwarranted intrusion on the executive branch and its internal functions.”

Mr. Clement said task force members may have sought information from industry officials, but private parties had no official policy-making role. As long as the official makeup of the task force was limited to government officials, he said, federal open-government laws cannot require that records be made public.

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