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Energy Plan Boosts Industries, Reflects Clout of Power Lobby

By Judy Pasternak
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- washington

Throughout February and March, executives representing electricity, coal, natural gas and nuclear interests paraded quietly in small groups to a building in the White House compound, where the new administration’s energy policy was being written.

Some companies sent emissaries more than once. Enron Corp., which trades electricity and natural gas, once got three top officials into a private session with Dick Cheney, who headed the energy task force. Cheney did “a lot of listening,” according to a company spokesman.

Many of the executives at the White House meetings were generous donors to the Republican Party, and some of their key lobbyists were freshly hired from the Bush presidential campaign. They found a receptive task force. Among its ranks were three former energy industry executives and consultants. The task force also included a Bush agency head who was involved in the sensitive discussions while his wife took in thousands of dollars in fees from three electricity producers.

The final report, issued May 16, boosted the nation’s energy industries. It called for additional coal production, and five days later the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, issued a public stock offering, raising about $60 million more than expected. While Peabody was preparing to go public, its chief executive and vice president participated in a March 1 meeting with Cheney.

The report also touted new gas extraction technologies. An early draft noted controversy over a gas recovery technique offered by Halliburton Co., the company Cheney ran from 1995 to 2000, before becoming vice president. The plan released to the public deleted the negative language.

Cheney continues to resist demands by Congress to disclose who met with administration officials during the 106 days this year when the energy plan was fashioned. The private nature of the work fostered candid and creative discussions “from new and unused quarters,” said Cheney press secretary Juleanna Glover Weiss.

But interviews and a review of documents show how the administration relied on familiar faces who could gain from the study.

Just once, the task force departed from its pledge to keep secret the names of people invited to pitch their opinions face to face. After producers of power from the sun, wind and geothermal heat met with Cheney, officials led the group to the front of the White House and waiting reporters.

Others whose views might conflict with industry -- the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, even federal agency staff -- found themselves shut out or overruled.