Bush's super-secret energy task force: The energy lobby?

Published May 16, 2001 4:59PM (EDT)

Bush league

Though the White House is now trumpeting the report crafted by the National Energy Policy Development Group, the administration has been extremely tight-lipped about who made up the task force that met Vice President Dick Cheney to come up with the energy plan. In April, the administration resisted calls from Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and John Dingell of Michigan to make the group's activities a part of the public record -- even under the threat of a possible congressional investigation. On May 1, the Energy Department refused a Freedom of Information Act request from the Natural Resources Defense Council to release relevant documents on the grounds that most of those papers were "pre-decisional in nature" (bureaucrat-ese for rough drafts), and, therefore, protected from FOIA disclosure requirements.

So Democrats and environmentalists have settled for digging through the administration's transition archives to make their point that the report is the handiwork of energy industry bigwigs. As part of their opposition efforts, the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday released a document titled "Energy Ties in the Bush Administration." Included was information on the "Bush Energy Transition Team," the group that helped then-president-elect Bush set up the Energy Department. The DNC notes that "out of the 48 members" that it researched, "almost two-thirds worked for the energy industry."

In the same press release, the DNC cites another report, provided by the League of Conservation Voters and originally compiled by Friends of the Earth, that gives a more complete accounting of the Bush energy transition team and its links to the energy industry. The FOE breaks down the group this way:

  • 63 team members
  • 50 representatives of energy supply industries
  • 27 representatives of the oil and gas industry
  • 17 representatives of the nuclear power or uranium mining industries
  • 16 representatives of the electricity industry
  • 7 representatives of the coal industry
  • 1 energy efficiency expert
  • 0 renewable energy experts
  • 8 "Bush Pioneers" (who each raised more than $100,000 in direct contributions to the Bush campaign)
  • $8,007,479 donated by team members, their families and their company PACs to Republican candidates from 1999 to 2000

    Though FOE spokesman Sean Moulton assured Salon that the names of the team members were lifted directly from the now-defunct Bush presidential transition Web site in January, Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss said she could not confirm the identities of any transition advisors. Weiss further argued that those people and their corporate ties had nothing to do with the administration's current energy report. "The transition team finished its work months ago," she said. "The National Energy Policy Development Group is made up entirely of federal employees."

    But DNC spokesman Rick Hess claimed that, as long as the administration insisted on withholding information about who met with Cheneys group, the transition team list provides the best clue as to who is influencing Bush energy policy. "Since the folks involved in transition would have their hands on nearly everything that happens," Hess insisted, "showing that the Bush administration was so tied to special interests during the transition proves that industry officials were likely closely tied to the creation of this plan."

    If Republicans want to prove that that's a cheap shot, Hess suggested that they give up the goods on the current energy policy effort. "Most Americans think that someone other than Bush is in charge of this. Releasing this information would be a great way to disprove that," he said.

    For good measure, the DNC didn't stop at reaming Bush's transition energy advisors, and also recycled information about the energy industry ties of those Bush administration officers who are on the official energy policy group roster: Cheney's tenure as CEO of Halliburton, "the world's largest oil field services company;" the $700,000 in auto industry donations garnered by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in his failed 2000 re-election effort; Interior Secretary Gale Norton's work for the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, a group that promoted industry calls for decreased environmental regulations; and Commerce Secretary Don Evans' 25-year career at Tom Brown Inc., an oil and gas company.

    Some Cabinet secretaries who sit on the energy task force managed to avoid mention on the DNC's list of shame: Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta. O'Neill is the most surprising omission, considering his history as CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa. Mineta's omission is the least surprising, considering his membership in the Democratic Party. And Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman was also spared, perhaps because she's suffered enough embarrassment from her boss.

    -- Alicia Montgomery

    Poll watch

    Americans have heard what Bush has to say about the current energy situation, and many of them don't like it. That's according to the latest poll by ABC News, conducted from May 9 to 13, in which 43 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the way Bush is handling the energy issue and 39 percent said they approve. An additional 18 percent responded that they have no opinion of Bush's performance on energy.

    Judgments about ways to deal with energy needs were more settled, with 56 percent of Americans declaring conservation as their "preferred approach to handle energy needs," compared with 35 percent who would prefer "more oil and gas drilling, coal mining and construction of nuclear power plants."

    The public has not yet warmed to the administration's preferred solutions to energy problems, but it has picked up on Bush's sense of urgency on the issue. Sixty-four percent believe that the country is "headed into an energy crisis," and 48 percent declare that rising gas prices have "caused them financial hardship."

    The survey has a three-point margin of error.

    Bush job approval

  • 56 percent, Gallup, May 10-14
  • 57 percent, CBS News, May 10-12
  • 59 percent, Fox News, May 9-10
  • 57 percent, Newsweek, May 3-4
  • 57 percent, Los Angeles Times, April 21-26
  • 56 percent, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, April 21-23
  • 63 percent, ABC News/Washington Post, April 19-22

    -- A.M.

    Twin watch

    Hard-partying first daughter Jenna Bush pleaded no contest in an Austin, Texas, courtroom Wednesday to misdemeanor charges of being a minor in possession of alcohol. For her sins -- a college night out at the Cheers Shot Bar on Austin's historic Sixth Street -- Austin community court Judge Elisabeth Earle slapped Bush with a Class C misdemeanor and ordered her to serve eight hours of community service and pony up $51.25 in fines by July 18. Jenna will also have to attend summer school once she completes finals at the University of Texas; Judge Earle ordered the Bush twin to attend alcohol awareness classes. But with a $500 maximum penalty available, did Judge Earle let off Jenna a bit too easily?

    Indeed, the real victim of Bush's underage drinking is likely to be other Sixth Street revelers. On the Sixth Street strip, bartenders and patrons have dubbed Jenna "the Twin." The Chicago Sun-Times recently dispatched reporter Rebecca Eckler to document the scene at Cheers Shot Bar, where most drinks are named after "sex acts and body parts," and the house specialty is the $1 Jell-O Shot. Apparently the college kids line up for it in droves. "Dozens of lipsticked women in tight black miniskirts and white halter tops scoop the Jell-O out with their fingers -- and then rinse off the stickiness in their beer," Eckler writes.

    But the presence of Jenna, whom the media seems to be doing a better job of tracking than the Secret Service, may be taking a toll on the Sixth Street good times. "The Twin has started lots of trouble for bars," a 26-year-old bartender named Craig told the Sun-Times. "Last week, seven bars on this strip were raided after her. It used to be so relaxed; now the police are so uptight, thanks in part to the Twin. I was getting drunk when I was 17 at these places."

    -- Daryl Lindsey

    The lowdown: Reading the tabs

    President Bush has been compared by some to former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Some more partisan folks have made the comparison between Bush and a chimpanzee. But leave it to the Weekly World News to come up with this: "Parallel Lives? Astonishing Links Between George W. & Howard Stern."

    In a story datelined Washington, of course, the News writes, "For years, researchers have puzzled over the many 'coincidences' that link martyred Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy: Both elected in a year ending in 60, both assassinated with a gunshot to the head on a Friday, both succeeded by Southerners named Johnson, etc. And now, experts are beginning to take note of the same sorts of connections between President George W. Bush and radio shock jock Howard Stern!"

    The News calls the connection "synchronicity," which it describes as "one of the most confounding areas of paranormal research."

    The only thing paranormal is the amount of free time the folks at the News must have to come up with gems like these. "Both have top aides named John. Bush has Attorney General John Ashcroft. Stern has stammering celebrity interviewer 'Stuttering John' Melendez."


    No. 2 on the list of amazing coincidences: "The word 'bush' is slang for female private parts. Stern's autobiography was titled 'Private Parts.'"

    Then there's amazing connection No. 7: "Stern created an alter ego named Fartman, whose superpowers come from passing gas. A chief cause of breaking wind is baked beans -- and one of the most popular brands of beans now on the market is, you guessed it, called Bush's."

    Will wonders never cease? For a full rundown of the undeniable links between Stern and Bush, click here.

    -- Anthony York

    Burning Bush

    Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

    Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

    Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

    Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

  • By Salon Staff

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