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Top G.O.P. Donors in Energy Industry Met Cheney Panel
Don Van Natta Jr and NEELA BANERJEE . NY Times . 01 march 2002

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 — Eighteen of the energy industry's top 25 financial contributors to the Republican Party advised Vice President Dick Cheney's national energy task force last year, according to interviews and election records.

Critics of the Bush administration's energy policy have long suspected that many of the corporations that were invited to advise the White House were large energy concerns that had contributed heavily to President Bush's campaign and the Republican Party in 2000. The White House has refused to release the names of the companies and individuals consulted during the formulation of the administration's energy policy last spring. It has been sued for the information.

But interviews and task force correspondence demonstrate an apparent correlation between large campaign contributions and access to Mr. Cheney's task force. Of the top 25 energy industry donors to the Republican Party before the November 2000 election, 18 corporations sent executives or representatives to meet with Mr. Cheney, the task force chairman, or members of the task force and its staff. The companies include the Enron Corporation (news/quote), the Southern Company, the Exelon Corporation (news/quote), BP, the TXU Corporation (news/quote), FirstEnergy (news/quote) and Anadarko Petroleum (news/quote).

Critics of the process said that President Bush and Mr. Cheney were quick to respond to executives from the energy sector not only because of campaign contributions but also because they share the philosophy of the oil patch, where both made fortunes.

"It's this bunch of guys in energy who say, `Boo! We don't like this,' and the Bush administration says, `Well, they elected us,' " said Eric Schaeffer, who was chief of regulatory enforcement for the Environmental Protection Agency until his resignation on Wednesday. "This is a natural alliance. The administration didn't need a lot of persuading."

Mr. Schaeffer, who worked at the E.P.A. for 12 years, resigned over what he called lax enforcement of clean air laws.

The energy task force produced a report on May 17, 2001, that sketched out a national energy policy that was largely favorable to the energy industry. The report recommended additional oil and gas drilling and made note of the nation's need to build 1,300 to 1,900 electric plants to meet the projected demand over the next two decades. Next week, the Senate begins deliberations on the Bush administration's energy bill, which has already been passed by the House.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, sued Mr. Cheney last week to force him to turn over lists of the executives who had advised the task force. A federal judge has ordered the Energy Department to release 7,500 pages of documents related to the task force under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The government sought to dismiss another suit today from Judicial Watch, a legal watchdog group here, which had requested thousands of pages of documents relating to the task force from federal agencies. A federal judge allowed the suit to go forward, and the group said it has received some of the documents.

Two Congressional Democrats are trying to learn the level of influence that industry executives may have had on the White House's national energy policy.

Mary Matalin, counselor to Mr. Cheney, said the task force also consulted with trade groups and other organizations, including labor unions, that did not give money to the Republican Party.

"Not everyone who got access were contributors or supporters," Ms. Matalin said. "No one ever got on the schedule for any other reason than their expertise in the field of energy."

But energy industry officials expressed some wonderment at Mr. Cheney's adamant refusal to release the list of executives he met with. They said meetings between industry officials and the White House have long been routine, even in Democratic administrations, and that the list of corporations that advised the task force was hardly an industry secret. Several said a list of the top financial supporters of the Bush-Cheney ticket would reveal some, if not all, of the most influential voices on energy policy.

An oil industry executive suggested that as long as the White House withheld the list of those who talked to the task force, suspicion about secret agendas would tar the energy industry itself. "I understand philosophically why the vice president may be doing this," the executive said, "but this sure puts us in a pickle."

Mr. Cheney has argued that releasing the identities of outside advisers on energy policy would make it impossible to have confidential conversations and receive unvarnished advice from those outside the government.

More than 400 corporations and groups sought meetings with the energy task force last spring. About half that number were granted access, a group that included 158 energy companies and corporate trade associations, 22 labor unions, 13 environmental groups and a consumer organization, task force staff members have said.

Some environmental groups have complained that the process was tilted toward industry. The leaders of many groups have said Mr. Cheney's office turned down their requests to meet with him. Instead, midlevel staff members from the groups met with energy task force staff members.

The Sierra Club met with the task force before the report was released on May 17. Two weeks later, Carl Pope, the group's executive director, met again at the White House for 30 minutes with Mr. Cheney.

The chairman of Ashland Petroleum, a major oil refining company, met with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham last spring to argue the arcana of increasing pipeline capacity. The chairman of BP, Lord John Browne, and other executives from the company, the 10th largest contributor to the Republican Party, met with Mr. Cheney and other administration officials in late February of 2001 to discuss international issues.

As part of a series of meetings organized by oil industry trade groups, the chairman of Anadarko Petroleum, Robert Allison, along with a handful of other executives, saw Mr. Cheney on Feb. 8, 2001. The 14th biggest donor to the Republican Party, Anadarko called for opening federal lands to greater oil and gas exploration and production, a cause it has championed for years.

"It's our job to meet with people, and it's the job of the administration to gather ideas," said Teresa Wong, a spokeswoman for Anadarko. "Bob Allison has been meeting with presidential administrations, with the Clinton administration and others, for years."

The Marathon Oil Corporation, among other oil companies, chose to have a trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, speak for it. "Our interests were represented by A.P.I. before the task force," a Marathon spokesman, Paul Weeditz, said.

No energy company contributed more to the Republican Party than Enron: $1.7 million in individuals' contributions, soft money donations and contributions from its political action committee. Enron appeared to have the most access to the task force. David S. Addington, counsel to Mr. Cheney, said in January that Enron executives had six meetings with the task force in 2001. Five were with staff members, on Feb. 22, March 7, April 9, Aug. 7 and Oct. 10. In the sixth meeting, on April 17, Kenneth L. Lay, the former Enron chairman, met with Mr. Cheney to discuss energy policy and the California energy crisis.

Discussions with the White House are nothing new to many executives in the energy industry, and companies' opinions on most regulatory and environmental issues are widely known. All of which has left the energy industry perplexed by the tug-of- war between Mr. Cheney and the Congressional accounting office.

"When I talk to people in the industry or in Congress, the sense is, What are we going to find out, that the energy industry was in there talking to the task force?' " said an executive from one large contributor to the Republican Party. "I don't think there's a list out there that could be far afield from any list of major companies. Within the industry, there's this feeling like, `Don't we already know who was there?' "

A handful of the most sizable energy industry donors to the Republican Party said their officers did not meet with the vice president or with task force staff members. Some executives pointed out that with an administration led by a former oilman that shares the priorities of the rest of the energy industry, there is little need for dogged lobbying.

Lehman Brothers (news/quote) ranked as the sixth largest energy industry contributor to the Republican Party during the 1999-2000 election cycle. Lehman owned Peabody Energy (news/quote), the world's largest coal mining company, and its subsidiary, Black Beauty Coal, until its initial public offering last year. Peabody executives were among 30 or 40 industry officials briefed by members of the energy task force in meetings set up last spring by the Edison Electric Institute, the power industry's primary lobbying group.

Frederick D. Palmer, the chief lobbyist for Peabody, said the company met more often with the Clinton administration than it does with the Bush White House because it needed to argue its case more often.

"We're all on the supply side — the electric utilities, the coal companies — and the energy plan is basically a supply side plan, but that's not the result of back room deals or lobbying the vice president of the United States," Mr. Palmer said. "People running the United States government now are from the energy industry, and they understand it and believe in increasing the energy supply, and contribution money has nothing do with it."

The largest Republican donors maintain that their contributions did not buy them access. But they did pave the way for the rise of an administration that ultimately supported much of the agenda of the energy industry. "We give money to these people to have a business environment we want to work in," Ms. Wong of Anadarko said. "And the thing we're proposing is to have an increase in the domestic energy supply."