WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2003
A federal appeals court rebuffed Vice President Dick Cheney, refusing to intervene in a lawsuit delving into the role of business executives and industry lobbyists in formulating the Bush administration's energy plan in 2001.
The administration won only three votes in favor of rehearing the request to step into the case in which Cheney and his energy task force are being ordered to turn over a large number of documents to the conservative group Judicial Watch and the environmental group Sierra Club. The request for a rehearing went to nine appeals court judges.
The rejection Wednesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit leaves the Bush administration two choices.
The first is to ask the Supreme Court to consider the case. The other is to return to U.S. District Court where Judge Emmet Sullivan says the administration must comply with requests for documents or give detailed explanations about the materials it intends to withhold from disclosure.
The administration argues that the constitutional need for the president to receive candid advice demands confidentiality.
Documents from the task force already handed over to Judicial Watch include maps of Middle Eastern countries "” including Iraq "” and catalogues of current oil exploration and extraction projects, including one document titled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts."
The General Accounting Office in February dropped a suit aiming to force Cheney to hand over the documents after a federal court indicated it did not wish to intervene in a dispute between two branches of government.
Last month, the GAO said it was unable to determine how much the White House's energy policy was influenced by the oil industry because they were denied documents by Cheney.
Some Democratic congressmen had requested information in the spring of 2001 about which industry executives and lobbyists the Cheney task force was meeting with in creating the Bush administration's energy plan.
Investigators also came up short trying to find out how much money various agencies spent on creating the national energy policy, the GAO report said.
The unwillingness of Cheney's office to turn over records and other information "precluded us from fully achieving our objectives" and limited its analysis, the GAO said.
The National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, was formed by President Bush in January 2001 to develop a national energy policy.
The task force submitted its final report in May 2001. Congress is now considering the energy-related legislative proposals.
The Cheney energy plan called for expanded oil and gas drilling on public land and easing regulatory barriers to building nuclear power plants. Among the proposals: drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge and possibly reviving nuclear fuel reprocessing, which was abandoned in the 1970s as a nuclear proliferation threat.
The GAO said the task force's report was the "product of a centralized, topdown, short-term, and labor-intensive process that involved the efforts of several hundred federal employees government wide."
In the few months between the start of the energy task force and its presentation of the final report, the vice president, some Cabinet-level and other senior administration officials and support staff controlled most of the report's development, according to the GAO.
They met frequently with energy industry representatives and only on a limited basis with scholars and environmentalists, the GAO said. The extent to which any of these meetings or information obtained from the energy industry influenced policy can't be determined, based on limited information made available to the GAO, the report said.
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