Full disclosure

Cheney: The public has a right to know who influenced the administration's energy policy.

March 03, 2002

THIS IS THE price of Dick Cheney's obstinacy: Until he tells the truth, Americans will wonder whether the nation's natural resources and power supply are controlled by campaign chits. Whether clean air is a right or a commodity. Whether the Office of the Vice President, and by extension the executive branch, is for sale.

Mr. Cheney's failure to disclose the work of his National Energy Policy Development Group is a sin of omission, with escalating potential for credibility damage.

In the early going, the question was whether now-disgraced Enron officials influenced national energy policy at Mr. Cheney's meetings. Now it is hard not to see the hand of campaign donors -- energy industry giants -- in administration proposals headed for Senate deliberation. The trail of crumbs keeps leading back to Mr. Cheney's task force.

Frankly, Congress and the public would rather hear the details from the vice president himself than from the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC, an environmental group, pledges to find and make public the devil in the details in 7,500 pages of Energy Department memos and notes obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

But a victory for the environmental group -- and others with pending lawsuits seeking access to the task force notes -- will never substitute for candor from the highest public offices. Only the landmark lawsuit filed on Congress' behalf by the General Accounting Office aims for the heart of the matter, calling on Mr. Cheney to disclose names, if not details.

Mr. Cheney counters that the GAO has overstepped its authority. He has said disclosure would erode executive branch power by limiting his ability to get advice from experts.

But Mr. Cheney is the one twisting the authority of the executive branch. He is not managing a conglomerate, where competitive data are proprietary; he can seek advice freely without trampling the public's right to see its government at work.

Until the vice president comes clean, the public and Congress cannot judge whether the administration's energy policy was fueled by advice freely sought and freely given, or by a combustible such as campaign donations. Only the truth will set him free of his long- overdue obligation to the American public.

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