Cozy at the top

Energy: At least the Bush administration is predictable -- even if it's wrong.

April 03, 2002

WITH NO WAY out, the Energy Department fessed up last week and turned over to the public a very selective but nonetheless revealing collection of documents showing how energy policy is made in the Bush administration. The image that comes to mind is of a college student with a crib sheet, caught during an exam and turning his eyes heavenward as he hands over the incriminating document. There's no point in even trying to explain away the obvious.

Energy policy was made this way: Oil companies and utilities and their allies got so much access that it's a wonder administration officials were able to squeeze them all in. After they had dictated the Bush energy plan, they then continued their meetings to plot how best to sell it to Congress.

Lobbyists from conservation groups and environmental organizations were given token input that was promptly ignored.

This is wrong. But it is not a scandal. A scandal has to have some element of surprise. There has to be something about it that seems hard to believe. Did the Nixon White House really order and then try to cover up the Watergate burglary? Were Ronald Reagan's people really doing business with the Iranians so that they could help the Nicaraguan contras? Did Bill Clinton actually have sex with that woman?

We're simply lacking that element this time. No one could expect the White House of George W. Bush to look at energy in any other way but the industry way. The administration bill completely reflected its origins.

But to say there's no scandal and no surprise is not to say that we shouldn't know more. Thousands of pages in the released documents, made public in response to a lawsuit, were whited out. Other documents, still being sought by the General Accounting Office, are being withheld. What's the story here? State secrets? Please. The most likely explanation is that the Bush administration is holding back yet more evidence confirming and elaborating on the obvious. Or is there some surprise we haven't guessed at? Is there a scandal lurking within those pages after all?

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