Bush met energy chiefs before drawing up policy

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The Independent US

Documents from the US government, released after a judge's order, confirm suspicions that the Bush administration closely consulted energy and utility companies – many of them big donors to the Republican party – as it drew up its energy strategy last year.

The documents – more than 11,000 of them – were made public by the Energy Department under the Freedom of Information Act, after a request by the independent monitoring group, Judicial Watch. Many of them have suffered a heavy dose of the black pencil, meaning there is no "smoking gun" directly suggesting the Bush administration sold policies to the highest bidder.

But they are bound to generate more criticism that Mr Bush paid little heed to environmentalists when he drew up an energy policy that gave industry almost everything it had wanted. The documents show the Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, met 36 people representing business interests and Republican campaign contributors between February and April 2001 but not once with consumer or environmentalist groups.

The release will intensify pressure on Vice-President Dick Cheney – head of the energy task force and, like Mr Bush, with close oil industry connections – to hand over his own records. They are currently the object of an unprecedented wrangle with Congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office.

Mr Cheney has vowed a last-ditch fight – likely to end in the Supreme Court - to keep the papers confidential, arguing they are protected by executive privilege. To make them public, he says, would deter people consulted by the government in future from giving candid advice.

Accusations that the Cheney team was little more than an extension of the energy industry were rife even before it published its policy last May. They became deafening with the collapse of the Enron energy group, which had contributed $1m (£700,000) to Bush campaigns since 1994, and was a leading advocate of the greater industry deregulation urged by the final report.

But Mr Abrahams stressed that Enron's chairman, Kenneth Lay, and Jeffrey Skillings, the chief executive, were among 23 people who had their requests for a meeting with him turned down. The Bush energy plan called for increased exploration and production of oil and coal, along with a relaxation of regulations and greater subsidies. It also held the door open for new nuclear power stations.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that incorporated most of its recommendations in August but the Senate is still debating the measure and may reject the most controversial proposal of all, to open the protected Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil and gas drilling.