Industry access to energy secretary documented

Lobbyists welcomed, environmentalists spurned, records show

March 27, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - As he helped the Bush administration write its national energy report last year, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham relied on the advice of more than 100 energy industry executives, trade association leaders and lobbyists, according to documents released by the Energy Department.

Abraham did not meet with any representatives of environmental organizations or consumer groups, the documents show.

In a news release Monday night, the Energy Department summarized the secretary's calendar by saying that Abraham met with 36 industry representatives on task force matters.

But Abraham actually met with 109 representatives of energy industry companies and trade associations, according to a comprehensive review of his daily calendar from late January 2001 to May 17, 2001, the day the White House released its national energy report. Many of the executives were leaders of corporations that were among the most generous financial supporters of President Bush's presidential campaign and the Republican Party.

Among individuals and groups that met with Abraham, 18 contributed a total of $16.6 million to the Republican Party since 1999, nearly three times what they gave to the Democratic Party, according to an analysis of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Jill Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said the department came up with its figure of 36 industry representatives meeting with Abraham based on executives who had asked specifically to discuss the work of the task force with Abraham, who was an influential task force member.

But many of the other meetings not counted by the Energy Department also dealt with the executives' interest in topics covered by the national energy policy.

"He's the energy secretary, he meets with these folks about energy issues," Schroeder said. "It's his job."

Energy Department officials also pointed out that Abraham occasionally rebuffed energy industry executives. Officials said 23 requests for meetings from industry leaders were denied. Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the former top executives of the Enron Corp., were among the executives who were turned away, officials said. But on March 29, 2001, Abraham met with two Enron executives, Joe Hartsoe and Linda Robertson.

And Lay met with Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the task force, on April 17, 2001, to discuss energy policy and the California energy crisis. Altogether, Enron executives had six meetings with the task force in 2001, according to David Addington, counsel to Cheney.

A coalition of nearly 30 environmental groups asked to meet with Abraham to discuss the national energy policy on Feb. 20, 2001. Energy Department officials declined the request, citing Abraham's "busy schedule."

But in subsequent days, Abraham met with numerous industry representatives, including a top executive of the American Coal Co.; the chairman of UtiliCorp United, a power company now known as Aquila Inc.; executives from a half-dozen utility companies; executives from a half-dozen nuclear power corporations and the corporate leaders of ExxonMobil, BP/Amoco, Shell, ChevronTexaco, Anadarko Petroleum and Ashland Inc.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said yesterday: "News flash - no surprise to anybody, the secretary of energy meets with energy-related groups."

Abraham's daily calendar was among the 11,000 pages of documents that Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups said yesterday demonstrate that the Bush administration leaned heavily on the advice of utility companies, oil companies and the producers of natural gas, coal and nuclear energy in developing its energy policy.

Congressional Democrats and environmental groups have long argued that the administration relied on advice from industry leaders while spurning environmentalists seeking conservation, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures. Yesterday, the groups said Abraham's calendar proves that suspicion.

"The documents indicate that great deference was given to energy industry executives and lobbyists and almost none was given to the environmental industry and the concerns of consumer groups," said Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch, the legal watchdog group and one of several groups that sued executive branch agencies for the documents' release.

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