Challenging Administration's Secrecy

National Catholic Reporter, March 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

Challenging Administration's Secrecy


Until last week, the Bush administration, under cover of the ill-defined and open-ended war on terrorism, was engaged in a reckless flirtation with secrecy and special interests, shutting out the public from areas of government business that should be open to scrutiny. But two federal court judges and a whistleblower in the Environmental Protection Agency have begun to force the doors open again.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the Congress, has received headlines for suing the administration to gain access to records of Vice President Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists to draw up the administration's energy plan. That suit is still pending.

It is, however, only one of three suits aimed at gaining access to the increasingly secretive Bush administration.

Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, saying, "I assume the government is stalling," ordered the Justice Department to released documents to Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that also gave the Clinton administration fits over issues of access. The documents reportedly will help to show what influence Enron executives and other oil interests had over the administration's energy policy.

In another case, Judge Gladys Kessler described the administration as "woefully tardy" in handing over documents to the Natural Resources Defense Council that also would provide information about who influenced the Bush energy plans.

It is notable that Kessler drew a connection between oil and the terrorist attacks, saying, "The subject of energy policy, especially since the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, is of enormous concern."

In a third case, Judge Paul Friedman described the government's action as "gamesmanship" and refused to dismiss yet another Judicial Watch suit against Cheney.

As the administration was getting pressure from the courts to open the books on its dealings with special interest groups, a longtime official at the Environmental Protection Agency took the unusual step of resigning, claiming the agency's work was being compromised by White House meetings with power companies intent on undermining enforcement of clean air standards.

As we were going to press, hearings were about to get underway to look into claims made by Eric Schaeffer, director of the office of regulatory enforcement, in a resignation letter to his boss, EPA Administrator Christine Whitman.

Schaeffer expressed his "frustration" over "a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."

According to the letter from Schaeffer, who has 12 years of experience with the agency, the EPA has filed lawsuits "against nine power companies for expanding their plants Without obtaining New Source Review permits and the up-to-date pollution controls required by law. The companies named in our lawsuits emit an incredible 5.0 million tons of sulfur dioxide every year (a quarter of the emissions in the entire country) as well as 2 million tons of nitrogen oxide. …

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