Environmental groups had more than an average level of access to key officials on the energy task force while the Bush administration’s national energy policy was being developed last year, according to records maintained by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The records refute earlier claims by environmental and consumer groups that they were not consulted on the energy policy. The administration’s policy included a number of environmental and efficiency initiatives.

The NRDC, as well as other environmental organizations, met on four separate occasions with task force officials to discuss environmental and efficiency proposals in President Bush’s energy policy before it was released last May 17, the group said. These meetings occurred between March 7 and May 11 of last year. Three of the meetings were with task force director Andrew Lundquist, and one was with Karen Knudson, deputy to Lundquist.

NRDC President John Adams and another NRDC official, plus other environmental groups, also met with Vice President Dick Cheney and task force members on June 5 — after the release of the energy policy — to discuss certain environmental proposals contained in the document.

Two of the meetings (March 7 and March 13) were held early in the development process for the energy policy, which challenges NRDC’s earlier claims that environmental groups were denied as much input as energy companies into the development of the national energy policy.

“We never made any bones about the fact that we had some token meetings with the Cheney task force,” said Elliott Negin, a spokesman for the NRDC in Washington, DC. The main issue for the NRDC always has been that the public has a right to know who the Bush administration met with when it formulated its energy policy, he noted.

The NRDC is the lead environmental group suing the Department of Energy (DOE) to recover documents related to the agency’s role on the task force. It received an estimated 11,000 pages of documents from the DOE last month in compliance with a court order, and got about 1,000 more pages of documents from the department last Wednesday.

At the March 7 meeting, NRDC senior scientist Dan Lashof discussed the energy efficiency provisions of the national energy policy with Lundquist. NRDC energy expert Patricia Silva met with Lundquist’s deputy on March 13 to talk about air-conditioning efficiency standards and DOE budget priorities, it said.

The Green Group, which includes the NRDC and other environmental groups, complained that their requests to meet with Cheney, who chaired the task force, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham prior to the release of the energy policy were denied. Instead, it said environmentalists were forced to confer with lower level task force officials.

At the same time, however, Cheney and Abraham had several powwows with energy companies and trade associations while the energy policy was being formulated, the NRDC noted. It claims that Abraham alone met with more than 100 representatives from the energy industry and trade associations between January and May 17 of last year, when the energy strategy was released.

Furthermore, the NRDC contends the task force’s effort to solicit input from environmental groups was not serious. It noted that a document-memo released last week revealed the task force gave a staff member only 48 hours to contact 11 environmental groups to obtain their policy recommendations. The staff member was instructed in the memo to review the environmentalists’ proposals, and “recommend some we might like to support that are consistent with the administration’s energy statements to date.”

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