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Published: Tuesday, 11/5/2002

The Cheney waiting game

The arrogance of those who concocted a national energy policy behind closed doors cannot be overstated. The energy task force that Vice President Dick Cheney chaired in early 2001 conducted the people's business in top secret. Only after a number of lawsuits were filed by environmental and legal rights groups along with the General Accounting Office were outsiders able to pry any information on the panel's deliberations from the zealously guarded archives of the Bush Administration.

But the process to gain an insight into how the administration crafted its energy plan has been akin to pulling teeth. The White House has tried to blunt every legal directive to divulge pertinent details of industry influence on the plan.

Despite court rulings upholding public disclosure of the Cheney papers, the Bush Administration has blatantly dragged its feet on providing essential material or identifying what it claims should remain confidential.

It has steadfastly refused to release any policy papers that relate specifically to the deliberations of Mr. Cheney and three other top aides, claiming the discussions of the President's most senior advisers are privileged.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan didn't buy the blanket privileged argument, and ordered government attorneys to produce the documents or an explanation on why they should be kept secret. But days before the court-imposed deadline of today - Election Day - the Bush Administration revealed it was nowhere near a completed review of the requested documents. Amazingly, it had gone through only two of 12 boxes of task force records.

Judge Sullivan was surprised to learn that in over a year's time the administration had never even examined material it deemed too sensitive for public scrutiny. It is clearly the strategy of the Bush White House to procrastinate indefinitely on any meaningful action with the requested task force papers.

The delays will give the Bush team cover past the midterm elections and possibly beyond the 2004 presidential elections. That way the public can be kept forever in the dark about who -from lobbyists to executives from utility companies and the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy industries - helped formulate the White House-backed energy bill now under negotiation between the House and Senate.

That is an outrage. The administration's pro-energy industry agenda will affect all Americans.

For three months Vice President Cheney and others opted to develop national energy policy in a most undemocratic manner. It is imperative that those proceedings, including participants, meeting schedules, and deliberations that influenced major governmental decisions, be finally opened without further delay for critical evaluation.

The administration owes the public it ostensibly exists to serve.



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