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Mysteries of the Energy Plan

January 10, 2002

For months, the White House has refused to hand over any information about the closed-door meetings of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force--a group that was heavy on energy executives, including Enron Corp. Chief Executive Kenneth L. Lay. Both Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and the congressional General Accounting Office have insisted that the workings of the task force be disclosed. The White House has steadfastly maintained it is not obligated to do so. But considering the impact of the energy recommendations issued in May, from drilling for oil in Arctic wilderness to weakening the Clean Air Act, Americans should be privy to the making of these decisions. The collapse of Enron Corp., which has led to a federal criminal investigation, just bolsters the argument.

The links between administration officials and Enron, starting with President Bush's own ties to the now-disgraced Lay, are going to get deserved scrutiny from several congressional committees. Democrats are gleeful at having such a fat target in a congressional election year. Yet the White House continues releasing too little, too late.

In a Jan. 3 letter to Waxman, White House counsel David S. Addington states that Cheney or members of his energy task force met six times with Enron executives. Once Cheney met with Lay. All of the meetings may have been perfectly innocent. But the adamant refusal of the White House to explain what took place not only creates the appearance of impropriety but also illuminates a dangerous penchant for secrecy. Whether it's keeping Congress out of the loop or preventing historians from examining past presidential papers, this is too often the administration mind-set.

Some of Waxman's requests may be picayune. He is asking, for example, about any communication that may have taken place between Cheney and Lay at a panel discussion on energy matters held at an American Enterprise Institute forum in Colorado in June. But the bulk of Waxman's questions are not unreasonable. Given the enormity of the Enron collapse and the company's seeming role in determining U.S. energy policy, it seems fair to ask for details about the meetings, any requests for changes in federal policies by Enron executives, copies of documents presented and the names of those attending.

The vice president's office obviously doesn't see it that way. White House counsel Addington ends his paltry letter to Waxman by saying, "It is our hope that submission of [this] information will help you avoid the waste of time and taxpayer funds on unnecessary inquiries." This is maximum spin.

Both Congress and the public deserve a full accounting of the administration's dealings with Enron. The fastest way to avoid wasting time and taxpayer money is for the White House to come clean.

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