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US Environmental Record

Government corruption

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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The Bush administration pressures the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) to stop accepting form letters. CAT’s job is to review comment letters from the public and produce summary reports on public opinion for policy decision-makers. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Content Analysis Team (CAT)

Category Tags: Corruption, Outsourcing CAT

Incoming Vice President Dick Cheney is already working to formulate the new administration’s energy policy, and to do so he is calling on a variety of CEOs and lobbyists for the oil, gas, and energy corporations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later observe that Cheney’s “visitor log began to look like the American Petroleum Institute [API]‘s membership list. This was no coincidence.” In early January, an oil and gas lobbyist brings a group of industry executives to the API’s Washington offices to put together a wish list for Cheney and the administration. Shortly after the inauguration, the same lobbyist, J. Steven Griles, will be named deputy secretary of the interior and assigned to work with the Cheney energy task force (see May 16, 2001). Griles will become the conduit for API members to funnel their recommendations directly to the task force. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 7]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, American Petroleum Institute, Lou Dubose, J. Steven Griles, US Department of the Interior, Jake Bernstein

Category Tags: Corruption, Outsourcing and privatization, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry

Peabody Energy logo.Peabody Energy logo. [Source: BNet (.com)]Ira F. Engelhardt and Fred Palmer, the CEO and vice president of Peabody Energy, meet with Andrew Lundquist, the director of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Also at the meeting are Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, is preparing a stock offering. The task force’s coal policy recommendations will directly impact the stock market’s response to Peabody’s IPO. The task force releases its recommendations (see May 16, 2001) less than a week before Peabody releases its stock offering on May 21. In part because the energy policy strongly emphasizes the use of coal, Peabody raises $420 million by going public—$60 million more than stock analysts predicted. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The task force was, in effect, flogging a stock offering.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 17-18]

Entity Tags: Jake Bernstein, Fred Palmer, Andrew Lundquist, Ira F. Engelhardt, Lawrence Lindsey, Lou Dubose, Spencer Abraham, National Energy Policy Development Group, Peabody Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Energy industry, Coal Industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

President Bush signs Executive Order 13211. It is a verbatim copy of a “suggested” order sent in March by American Petroleum Institute official James Ford (see March 20, 2001). The executive order, enigmatically titled “Actions Concerning Regulations That Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use,” exempts certain industry actions from federal review. [White House, 5/22/2001; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: American Petroleum Institute, James Ford, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Air pollution, Corruption, Corporate welfare, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) calls for the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs to hold hearings on a possible improper relationship between Enron and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Her call for an investigation is prompted by media reports of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay pressuring FERC chairman Curtis Hebert to deregulate the energy industry in ways favorable to Enron (see August 14, 2001). Feinstein writes to Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), the ranking member of the committee, “Despite evidence of manipulation and price gouging in both the electricity and natural gas markets in California and the West, and a finding by FERC last November of ‘unjust and unreasonable’ rates, the commission has failed to take the actions necessary to bring reliability and stability to the marketplace… [I]t is clear that the citizens of the United States, especially the people of California, who are suffering from FERC’s failure to do its job, deserve an investigation and full public hearing into what happened. FERC is a $175 million a year agency charged with regulating the energy industry, and it would be unconscionable if any of the nation’s electricity traders or generators were in a position to be able to determine who chairs or becomes a member of the commission.” Lay is accused of forcing Hebert from his position in favor of another, more Enron-friendly chairman, Pat Wood. Feinstein adds, “Since FERC has refused to fulfill its legally mandated function under the Federal Power Act to restore ‘just and reasonable’ electricity rates, we need to ask whether undue influence by the companies that FERC regulates has resulted in its failure to act… In California, the total cost of electricity in 1999 was $7 billion. This climbed to $28 billion in 2000 and is predicted to reach $70 billion this year. At the same time, with FERC refusing to act, power generators and marketers have made record profits. The people of our nation deserve a full investigation.” [US Senate, 5/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, Curtis Hebert, Dianne Feinstein, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Kenneth Lay, Pat Wood, Enron Corporation

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry

A Klamath River farmer and prospective voter.A Klamath River farmer and prospective voter. [Source: Sierra Times]Interior Department official Sue Ellen Woodbridge is contacted, to her surprise and initial disbelief, by Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney is concerned with a situation developing in Oregon, a battleground electoral state that the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign had lost by less than half a percentage point in November 2000. Drought-stricken ranchers and farmers—largely Republican in makeup—are clamoring for the irrigation water they need to keep their croplands and pastures green. [Washington Post, 6/27/2007] The farmers and ranchers of the area are key to the re-election of Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR). [CounterPunch, 7/16/2007] But federal biologists say that the Endangered Species Act gives the government no choice: if the water is released, two imperiled species of fish will be gravely impacted. Both science and the law are on the side of the fish, but Cheney steps in, apparently more out of political concerns for Oregon than for the farmers and ranchers. According to Cheney’s aides, he first looks for a way around the law. According to an Oregon congressman who lobbies for the farmers, when Cheney finds no way to circumvent the law, he instead attacks the science protecting the fish (see April 2002). The government eventually declares, in spite of all scientific evidence, that the water release and subsequent draining of the Klamath River basin will not harm the fish. Instead, the water release causes the largest fish kill in modern Western history (see September 2002). Cheney’s role in the fish kill will not be revealed until 2007. [Washington Post, 6/27/2007] After the Washington Post reveals Cheney’s role in the fish kill, the House will open hearings on Cheney’s activities (see June 27-28, 2007).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Endangered Species Act, Gordon Smith, Sue Ellen Woodbridge, US Department of the Interior

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Corruption, Environmental enforcement, Politicization and deception, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

A study conducted by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the scientists and experts who sit on the Science Advisory Board panels which advise the EPA often have ties to the affected industries or other conflicts of interest. The study, requested by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), says that EPA officials regularly fail to identify potential conflicts of interest when panel members are chosen and do not adequately disclose the existence of such conflicts to the public. Though it is prohibited for a federal employee to participate in any “particular matter” that could affect their financial interests, there is an exemption that permits special government employees to serve on advisory panels when the topic being studied directly affects the financial interests of their employer—as long as the employer is not “singularly affected.” [Washington Post, 7/16/2001]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, Government Accountability Office

Category Tags: Corruption, Politicization and deception

Curtis Hebert of the FERC.Curtis Hebert of the FERC. [Source: PBS]Curtis Hebert is replaced by Pat Wood as the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Hebert announced his resignation on August 6. [US Department of Energy, 12/2001] Hebert, a Clinton appointee who nevertheless is a conservative Republican, an ally of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), and quite friendly towards the energy corporations, had been named to the FERC shortly before Clinton left office; Bush named him to chair the commission in January 2001. [Consortium News, 5/26/2006]
Replaced at Enron Request - Hebert is apparently replaced at the request of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, who did not find Hebert responsive enough in doing Enron’s bidding. Hebert had just taken the position of FERC chairman in January when he received a phone call from Lay, in which Lay pressured him to back a faster pace in opening up access to the US electricity transmission grid to Enron and other corporations. (Lay later admits making the call, but will say that keeping or firing Hebert is the president’s decision, not his.) When Hebert did not move fast enough for Lay, he is replaced by Pat Wood, a close friend of both Lay and President Bush. [Guardian, 5/26/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2001] Lay apparently threatened Hebert with the loss of his job if he didn’t cooperate with Enron’s request for a more pro-Enron regulatory posture. [CNN, 1/14/2002]
Opposed Enron Consolidation Plan - Hebert was leery of Enron’s plan to force consolidation of the various state utilities into four huge regional transmission organizations (RTOs), a plan that would have given Enron and other energy traders far larger markets for their energy sales. Hebert, true to his conservative beliefs, is a states’ rights advocate who was uncomfortable with the plan to merge the state utilities into four federal entities. Lay told Hebert flatly that if he supported the transition to the RTOs, Lay would back him in retaining his position with FERC. Hebert told reporters that he was “offended” at the veiled threat, but knew that Lay could back up his pressure, having already demonstrated his influence over selecting Bush administration appointees by giving Bush officials a list of preferred candidates and personally interviewing at least one potential FERC nominee (see January 21, 2001). [PBS, 2/2/2002; Consortium News, 5/26/2006] According to Hebert, Lay told him that “he and Enron would like to support me as chairman, but we would have to agree on principles.” [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Hebert added to another reporter, “I think he would be a much bigger supporter of mine if I was willing to do what he wanted me to do.” Lay recently admitted to making such a list of preferred candidates: “I brought a list. We certainly presented a list, and I think that was by way of letter. As I recall I signed a letter which, in fact, had some recommendations as to people that we thought would be good commissioners.…I’m not sure I ever personally interviewed any of them but I think in fact there were conversations between at least some of them and some of my people from time to time.” [PBS, 2/2/2002]
Cheney Behind Ouster - Joe Garcia, a Florida energy regulator, says he was interviewed by Lay and other Enron officials. After Hebert made it clear to Lay that he wouldn’t go along with Lay’s plans to reorganize the nation’s utilities, Vice President Dick Cheney, who supervises the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 16, 2001, began questioning Hebert’s fitness. [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Cheney said in May 2001, “Pat Wood has got to be the new chairman of FERC.” In private, Cheney said then that Hebert was out as chairman and Wood was in, though Hebert did not know at the time that his days were numbered. [PBS, 2/2/2002] “It just confirms what we believed and what we’ve been saying, that the Bush-Cheney energy plan is written by corporations and it’s in the interests of the corporations,” says the National Environmental Trust’s Kevin Curtis. [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Not only was Hebert not responsive enough to Lay’s pressure, but he had become a focus of criticism for his refusal to scrutinize Enron’s price gouging in the California energy deregulation debacle. Wood’s more moderate position helps ease the worries of other states themselves losing confidence in the Bush administration’s deregulation advocacy. [American Prospect, 1/2/2002]
Hebert Investigating Enron Schemes - And even more unsettling for Enron, Hebert was beginning to investigate Enron’s complicated derivative-financing procedures, an investigation that may have led to an untimely exposure of Enron’s financial exploitation of the US’s energy deregulation—exploitation that was going on under plans nicknamed, among other monikers, “Fat Boy,” “Death Star,” “Get Shorty,” all of which siphoned electricity away from areas that needed it most and being paid exorbitant fees for phantom transfers of energy supposedly to ease transmission-line congestion. [Consortium News, 5/26/2006] “One of our problems is that we do not have the expertise to truly unravel the complex arbitrage activities of a company like Enron,” Hebert recently told reporters. “We’re trying to do it now and we may have some results soon.” [Guardian, 5/26/2001] Instead, Hebert is forced out of FERC. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for an investigation into Enron’s improper influence of the FERC committee after the media revealed Lay’s phone call to Hebert in May 2001 (see May 25, 2001).

Entity Tags: National Environmental Trust, Trent Lott, Kevin Curtis, Pat Wood, Kenneth Lay, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, George W. Bush, Curtis Hebert, Joe Garcia, Dianne Feinstein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Enron Corporation

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Appointments and resignations, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry

The Bush administration blocks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from making any announcement about vermiculite and related problems in towns where it was mined. Vermiculite is dangerous because one of the substances it contains, tremolite, itself contains lethal levels of asbestos fiber and has killed or seriously sickened thousands of inhabitants of Libby, Montana, one of the towns where it was mined. EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman visits Libby at this time, although the vermiculite mine there was shut down in 1990. However, the problem is not confined to Libby; according to EPA records, over 16 billion tons of vermiculite have been shipped to 750 fertilizer and insulation manufacturers throughout the US, and the EPA estimates that between 15 million and 35 million US homes have been insulated with this toxic material. The EPA is thus confronted with an enormously grave problem. After the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks the story in late 2002 based on a leak from an unnamed whistleblower, former EPA chief William Ruckelshaus calls the actions of the White House “wrong, unconscionable.” The story becomes even more important when the reason for the White House block becomes known. Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, is pressuring Congress to pass legislation that would absolve companies of any legal liability for claims arising from asbestos exposure. Halliburton itself is facing a tremendous number of asbestos liability claims. [Dean, 2004, pp. 162-163]

Entity Tags: William Ruckelshaus, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Christine Todd Whitman, Halliburton, Inc., Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Environmental enforcement, Oil and gas industry

2002: EPA Exaggerates Enforcement Record

The Environmental Protection Agency inflates its enforcement record by including counterterrorism and narcotics cases led by other agencies. The padded numbers obscure an actual decline in the EPA’s enforcement activity. For example, the agency lumps 190 counterterrorism-related investigations into its annual performance report to Congress, referring to them as EPA-initiated “criminal investigations.” Sometimes an “investigation” involves nothing more than a phone call to an FBI agent who has requested assistance in a case. “I called the FBI and said, ‘If you need us, give us a call.’ That warranted a (criminal) case number. There was no investigation,” one EPA agent will explain to the Sacramento Bee. In another incident, two agents “went out on an interview, and they closed it after the interview.” The EPA counted the visit as a completed investigation. “To me, those are false statistics,” another senior agent tells the newspaper. The resulting numbers, which are reported to Congress and the public, mask “a significant drop-off in the federal government’s pursuit of criminal polluters during the past two years.” [Sacramento Bee, 7/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, US Congress

Category Tags: Corruption, Environmental enforcement

Michele Merkel, a staff attorney in the EPA’s enforcement division whose specialty is in the area of factory farming, resigns because of the administration’s reluctance to enforce federal regulatory laws and because she believes the livestock industry has too much influence on EPA oversight of factory farms. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/2002; Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004; Grist Magazine, 5/24/2004] “Once the Bush team came in, I was not allowed to pursue any further air lawsuits against CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations],” she tells Muckraker. “We got political cover to continue what was underway, but I was told that new efforts were off-limits. It wasn’t just coming from my EPA superiors, it was coming from the White House.” [Grist Magazine, 5/24/2004] “Ultimately what drove me out of the agency was the anti-enforcement philosophy of the current administration,” Merkel tells the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Michele Merkel, Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Corruption, Appointments and resignations, Environmental enforcement, Agribusiness

District Court Judge John Bates rules against the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, in its attempt to force Vice President Cheney to disclose some of his Energy Task Force documents (see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). The judge writes, “This case, in which neither a House of Congress nor any congressional committee has issued a subpoena for the disputed information or authorized this suit, is not the setting for such unprecedented judicial action.” [Associated Press, 12/9/2002] Bates is a Republican who worked as the deputy independent counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, and was appointed to the bench by President Bush in 2001. [Savage, 2007, pp. 112] The GAO later declines to appeal the ruling (see February 7, 2003). In a similar suit being filed by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, the Bush administration has successfully delayed deadlines forcing these documents to be turned over. [Associated Press, 12/6/2002] That case will eventually be decided in the administration’s favor (see May 10, 2005).
Cheney Pushes Back - Unfortunately, the ruling’s claim of no Congressional involvement is somewhat misleading. The original request for information came from two ranking House members, Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Committee on Government Reform and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Energy and Commerce Committee (see April 19 - May 4, 2001). Waxman and Conyers followed standard procedure by writing to David Walker, head of the GAO, to request information about who was meeting with the task force and what the task force was doing (May 8, 2001. Instead of complying with the request, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington, replied that the task force was not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and therefore not bound by law to provide such information (see May 16 - 17, 2001). Addington later challenged the GAO’s authority, saying that it was trying “to intrude into the heart of Executive deliberations, including deliberations among the President, the Vice President, members of the President’s Cabinet, and the President’s immediate assistants, which the law protects to ensure the candor in Executive deliberation necessary to effective government.” The GAO was not asking for such information; former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004, “It was clear [Addington] was looking to pick a fight.”
Tug of War - The GAO advised Addington that it did indeed have the legal power to examine the deliberations of such entities as the task force, and provided Addington both the statutory law and the legislative history, which flatly contradicted Addington’s refusal. The GAO also noted that it was “not inquiring into the deliberative process but [was] focused on gathering factual information regarding the process of developing President Bush’s National Energy Policy.” The GAO even narrowed the scope of its original request, asking only for the names of those who had worked with the task force, and the dates (see July 31, 2001). But this provoked further resistance from Cheney and his office, with Cheney publicly stating on numerous occasions that the GAO was unlawfully trying to intrude into the deliberative process. Walker’s patience ran out in January 2002, and he notified the White House and Congress that the GAO was taking the administration to court (see February 22, 2002).
Hardball in Federal Court - Usually the case will be handled by lawyers from the Justice Department’s Civil Division. But this case is much more important to the White House to be left to the usual group of attorneys. Instead, this lawsuit is one of the very few to be handled by a special unit operating under the direct supervision of Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement and Clement’s boss, Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, the lawyer who spearheaded the team that successfully argued the December 2000 Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Dean later learns that this special team was created specifically to find and handle cases that they can take to the Supreme Court in order to rewrite existing law, mostly laws that restrict the power of the presidency (see January 21, 2001). Many career attorneys at the Justice Department will become so offended by the existence and the agenda of this special legal team that they will resign their positions. The administraton sent a strong signal to Judge Bates when it sent Olson, who has argued many times before the Supreme Court, to argue the government’s case in his court. Dean will write that Bates, a recent Bush appointee and a veteran of the Whitewater investigation, “got the message.” He knows this case is slated to go to the Supreme Court if it doesn’t go the way the White House wants.
Standing the Law On Its Head - According to Dean, Bates turns the entire body of statutory law overseeing the GAO and its powers to compel information from the executive branch on its head. He rules that the GAO lacks the “standing to sue,” saying that it doesn’t have enough of a legal stake in the controversy to have a role in trying to compel information. Bates, flying in the face of over eight decades of law and precedent, rules that, in essence, the GAO is merely an agent of Congress, and because neither the GAO nor Walker had suffered injury because of the task force’s refusal to comply with its request, the GAO has no legal recourse against the executive branch. Bates hangs much of his ruling on the fact that Congress has not yet subpoenaed the White House for the task force information. Thusly, Bates guts the entire structure of enforcement authority the GAO has as part of its statutory mandate. Bates does not go as far as the Justice Department wants, by not specifically ruling that the entire GAO statute is unconstitutional, but otherwise Bates’s ruling is a complete victory for the White House. [Dean, 2004, pp. 76-80] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that “Bates’s ruling creates a legislative Catch-22 for Democrats.” Because the GOP is the majority party, and because GOP Congressional leaders refuse to subpoena the White House on virtually any issue or conflict, no such subpoenas as Bates is mandating are likely to ever be granted by Republican committee chairmen. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write that Bates’s ruling severely eroded the GAO’s “ability to threaten to file a lawsuit [and] damaged the congressional watchdog’s capability to persuade executive branch agencies to comply with its requests for information.… Bates had established a principle that, if left undisturbed, could change the attitudes of executive branch officials when the GAO asked for documents they did not want to disclose.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 112-113]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Lou Dubose, Paul Clement, Sierra Club, John Conyers, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Bates, Judicial Watch, Henry A. Waxman, Bush administration (43), Charlie Savage, David Walker, David S. Addington, Government Accountability Office, Energy Task Force, Jake Bernstein, Federal Advisory Committee Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

Randy Waite of the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning says in an email to representatives of the meat industry, “We need to start getting across the idea that farms are going to continue to be vulnerable to citizen suits and this data will go a long way in helping us, in partnership, to find solutions to some of those issues, making them less vulnerable in the long run.” The Chicago Tribune, which obtained a copy of the email along with several other documents through the Freedom of Information Act, notes that Waite sounds almost as though he considers himself a partner with the industry his agency is supposed to be regulating, “arrayed against, for example, citizens who want to file lawsuits.” [Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Randy Waite

Category Tags: Corruption, Factory farms

Forest Service officials inform employees of the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that the work they are doing will be outsourced to the private sector. The management team will remain, but the content analysis work will be farmed out to contract consultants. This decision is made despite the department’s reputation for remarkable efficiency. In October 2002, a study commissioned by Yosemite National Park had praised CAT saying it had a “track record… [un]equaled by any other organized process.” (see October 2002). A study three months later will conclude that outsourcing will actually cost the agency more (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Corruption, Outsourcing and privatization, Timber industry, Outsourcing CAT, Roadless Rule

The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. [Reuters, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Agency, Emmet Sullivan, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Superfund sites and clean-up, Cheney Energy Task Force

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Category Tags: Corruption, Oil and gas industry

Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Key Events, Corruption

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments for and against the release of records pertaining to Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The case is Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475) (see December 15, 2003). Two public interest groups, the environmentalist Sierra Club and the conservative government watchdog organization Judicial Watch, have joined to argue for the release of the records, saying that because the task force deliberations included energy industry executives and lobbyists, the task force is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires disclosure of the work of advisory groups that include non-federal employees. Bush administration lawyers, spearheaded by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, argue that releasing those records would violate the concept of “separation of powers.” The administration also argues that releasing the records, most pertinently the meetings between Cheney, his aides, and officials from energy corporations and lobbying firms, would damage the White House’s ability to receive candid advice. “This case is about the separation of powers and the president’s discretion to receive the opinions of subordinates,” Olson tells the court; Olson has resisted submitting task force documents even to the Court, saying that even that so-called “discovery” process would violate the Constitutional separation of powers. Lawyers for the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch argue that Cheney’s contacts with industry executives and lobbyists were improper while he was developing government policy that benefited their businesses. They are demanding to know whether energy lobbyists helped shape the government’s long-term energy policies. Lower courts agreed with Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, and Cheney, with the Justice Department, has successfully ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unprecedented speed.
Justices Question Breadth of Requests - Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to recuse himself from deliberations after accompanying Cheney on a duck-hunting trip in January, is one of the justices most favoring the government’s case. But even more moderate justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg question whether the information request is too broad and inclusive. As for the White House, it argues that neither the courts nor Congress have any right to make any inquiries into the decisions of federal agencies and officials. Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder says the White House appears to have violated laws supporting open government: “What the panel said to energy executives was: Help us decide what the energy policy should be. A line has been crossed because the process should have been transparent. The panel was inordinately influenced by the energy industry.” Cheney has said that the executive branch must defend itself against the “continual encroachment by Congress.” The White House has already turned over some 40,000 documents from the task force after a lower court ruling compelled it to do so (see July 17, 2003), but the lawsuit before the Supreme Court says that another 100,000 potentially relevant documents and files remain secret. [MSNBC, 4/26/2004; New York Times, 4/28/2004; CNN, 6/24/2004]
Cheney 'Beyond the Reach of the Law?' - In a legal analysis of the case, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean calls the case “extraordinary,” and notes that Cheney “contends that he is, in essence, beyond the reach of the law. It began as a set of rather pedestrian discovery matters in two consolidated civil lawsuits. Now, however, because of Cheney’s stance, it could be a landmark Constitutional decision.” Dean sees the case as an opportunity for Cheney, with the assistance of Olson and Scalia, “to expand executive powers.” [FindLaw, 3/26/2004]
Case Sent Back to Lower Court - The Court will vote to send the case back to the District of Columbia Appeals Court for further adjudication (see June 24, 2004). That court will rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Sierra Club, US Department of Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Bookbinder, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Federal Advisory Committee Act, National Energy Policy Development Group

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

Sylvia Lowrance, the former deputy administrator for enforcement at the EPA, tells the Chicago Tribune that while at the EPA her office had been instructed not to pursue any more pollution cases against farms without the approval of the senior political appointees in the EPA. “That’s unprecedented in EPA,” she says. [Knight Ridder, 5/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Sylvia Lowrance, Environmental Protection Agency

Category Tags: Corruption, Environmental enforcement, Agribusiness

The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). [National Review, 6/25/2004; FindLaw, 7/2/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 167-168] The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Sierra Club, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Souter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

Russell Train, a former EPA administrator who served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, says during a news conference, organized by Environment2004, that he intends to vote for Democrat John Kerry because he believes the Bush administration’s record on the environment has been “appalling.” “It’s almost as if the motto of the administration in power today in Washington is not environmental protection, but polluter protection,” says Train, who is a Republican. “I find this deeply disturbing.” [Associated Press, 7/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Russell Train

Category Tags: Corruption, Key Events

A White House document shows that oil company executives lied in recent Senate hearings when they denied meeting with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. The document, obtained by the Washington Post, shows that officials from ExxonMobil, Conoco (before it merged with Phillips), Shell Oil, and British Petroleum met with the task force (see March 22, 2001). Last week, the CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips denied participating in the task force’s deliberations. Shell Oil’s CEO said his company did not participate “to my knowledge,” and the chief of BP America said he did not know. Though Chevron is not named in the White House document, that firm and others “gave detailed energy policy recommendations” to the task force, according to the Government Accountability Office. Cheney also met separately with John Browne, BP’s chief executive, in a meeting not included in the document. Environmentalists have long stated that they were almost entirely shut out of the deliberations, while corporate interests were heavily represented (see April 4, 2001). The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the government could keep the records of the task force secret (see June 24, 2004). Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says, “The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force.” Since the oil executives were not under oath—a decision by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) protested by committee Democrats—they cannot be charged with perjury. However, they can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress. After the Washington Post releases the document, former Conoco manager Alan Huffman confirms, “We met [with the task force] in the Executive Office Building, if I remember correctly.” A ConocoPhillips spokesman says that CEO James Mulva had been unaware of the meetings when he testified at the hearing. ExxonMobil says it stands by CEO Lee Raymond’s denials; James Rouse, an Exxon official named in the document (see Mid-February, 2001), denies meeting with the task force, calling the document “inaccurate.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Frank R. Lautenberg, Ted Stevens, Chevron, British Petroleum, Alan Huffman, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch/Shell, US Supreme Court, National Energy Policy Development Group, Government Accountability Office, James Mulva, ConocoPhillips, John Browne, Lee Raymond, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Rouse

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

Some of the tens of thousands of salmon killed due to the artificial water lowering by the Department of the Interior.Some of the tens of thousands of salmon killed due to the artificial water lowering by the Department of the Interior. [Source: Environmental News Service]The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Mike Thompson (D-CA), decides to investigate the role of Vice President Dick Cheney in a 2002 salmon kill (see April 2002) on Northern California’s Klamath River, the largest fish kill in modern Western history (see September 2002). “We know where the smoking gun lays,” says Chris Lawson, a fisherman and president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association. No one in Northern California or Oregon (another state affected by the fish kill) knew of Cheney’s role until a recent story in the Washington Post uncovered Cheney’s successful attempt to subvert both scientific evidence and the Endangered Species Act to allow a water release that drastically lowered the water level in the Klamath. The day the article appears, Thompson and 35 other Democrats call for a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, saying in a letter that “[t]he ramifications of that salmon kill are still being felt today as returns to the Klamath River are so low that commercial, sport and tribal fishing seasons have been curtailed for the past three years.” A day later, Rahall agrees. The hearing will be held a month later (see August 1, 2007). In October 2002, Thompson piled 500 pounds of dead coho salmon in front of the Interior Department, accusing that agency of “gross mismanagement” in the wildlife disaster. Now Thompson asks, “We know that science was manipulated and the law was violated. Did in fact the vice president of the United States put pressure on mid-level bureaucrats to alter the science and circumvent the law in order to gain political votes for his re-election or the election of other people in Oregon?” Cheney’s office responds to the hearings by saying it is “disappointing the Democrats would rather investigate than legislate,” and that the Post story is nothing more than “a repackaging of old accusations.” Cheney’s office refuses to say whether Cheney will agree to testify before the committee. The reduced river flow in 2002, says Thompson, “wasn’t about salmon or water, it was about electoral votes in Oregon.” Since the fish kill, the courts have prohibited the diversion of Klamath water for agricultural use once the water levels drop below a critical point. But in the years after the fish kill, the salmon catch has been gravely reduced. Commercial fishing in California and Oregon has suffered a more than 90% drop as recently as 2006; Congressional Democrats say the result has been over $60 million in damage to coastal economies. Only in 2007 have the number of young salmon in the Klamath shown indications that salmon numbers may once again be increasing. [Associated Press, 6/28/2007; Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 7/9/2007] However, the Klamath salmon are still gravely threatened by rampant fish diseases infesting tens of thousands of juvenile salmon, as well as abnormally high water temperatures and low water levels. [CounterPunch, 7/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Mike Thompson, Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association, Chris Lawson, House Natural Resources Committee, Nick Rahall, US Department of the Interior, Washington Post, Endangered Species Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Endangered species, Environmental enforcement, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

The White House finally releases a list of officials and organizations who met with Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001) in 2001. Cheney and the White House have successfully battled for six years to keep virtually all details of the task force secret (see May 10, 2005), and many other documents and files pertaining to the task force remain secret. The list of participants confirms what many have always suspected—that oil, gas, and energy executives and lobbyists were virtually the only ones to have any input in the task force’s policy deliberations. Many of the participants were also heavy donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and to the Republican Party in general.
Secrecy - Some participants say they were never sure why the White House fought so hard to keep the information about the task force secret. “I never knew why they fought so hard to keep it secret,” says Charles A. Samuels, a lawyer for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. “I am sure the vast majority of the meetings were very policy-oriented meetings—exactly what should take place.” Others say that their meetings with the task force were routine.
API Input - American Petroleum Institute president Red Cavaney says that when he met with the task force, he and his fellow API officials discussed position papers the organization had given to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to newly elected members of Congress. “We’re in the business of routinely providing advocacy materials,” Cavaney says. “Speaking for myself, I had zero hand in authoring or sitting with anyone from that task force and changing anything.” But Cavaney is seriously downplaying API’s influence (see March 20, 2001).
"Ridiculous" - Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been a driving force behind the effort to reveal the inner workings of the task force to the public, says it is it is “ridiculous” that it has taken six years to see who attended the meetings. He describes the energy task force as an early indicator of “how secretively Vice President Cheney wanted to act.” As to the makeup of the participants, Waxman is not surprised to see the dominance of energy industry groups in the meetings. “Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet,” he says. Climate expert David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council says: “Cheney had his finger on a critical issue. He just pushed it in the wrong direction.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, Bush administration (43), Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Charles A. Samuels, Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Defense Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Hawkins, Red Cavaney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Corruption, Corporate welfare, Politicization and deception, Energy industry, Oil and gas industry, Cheney Energy Task Force

Representative Nick Rahall.Representative Nick Rahall. [Source: Nick Rahall]The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to investigate the role that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials played in the decision that led to the largest fish kill in modern Western United States history (see Mid-2001 - Early 2002 and June 27-28, 2007). The committee is unable to find conclusive proof that Cheney directly gave the orders that led to the fish kill. A former Interior Department official, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, testifies that Cheney pressured the department to release water in the Klamath River in Northern California, even though the water release would threaten the life cycle of tens of thousands of salmon who live and breed in the river. The water release was to benefit drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in the area. The decision went against the provisions of the Endangered Species Act as well as an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion and the tribal water rights of local Native Americans. Former fisheries biologist Michael Kelly, who worked on the Klamath issue, testifies that he cannot be sure whether Cheney interfered in the situation. “I was aware that President Bush had declared he’d do everything he could to get water to the farms,” Kelly says, and adds that he knew his own superiors were being pressured to speed up assessments and tilt the science to favor the farmers. “I was essentially asked to support a conclusion that made as much sense as 1+1=3,” Kelly says. The biological opinion underlying the plan was “completely bogus and illegal,” he adds. Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) calls the Klamath fish kill “a fiasco” and lambasts Cheney and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for refusing to testify before the committee. “I will not pretend to be surprised [Cheney] declined our invitation,” Rahall says. “But I am obliged to express disappointment at the difficulty we have had in trying to learn the truth and conduct basic oversight over an agency and an administration that have made secrecy and lack of accountability hallmarks of their tenure.” Rahall notes that “[w]hen it comes to political interference and ethical lapses at the department, the Klamath River is just the tip of the iceberg.… I find it difficult to see how we can trust any decision made in an agency that has, time and again, betrayed its own career scientists, repeatedly failed to hold its appointees to ethical standards and so callously disregarded its mission for the sake of political gain.” [Environmental News Service, 8/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Endangered Species Act, Bush administration (43), Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush, House Natural Resources Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mary Kendall, US Department of the Interior, Michael Kelly, Nick Rahall

Category Tags: Wildlife protection, Corruption, Endangered species, Environmental enforcement, Politicization and deception, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

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