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The Planet
A Scandal We Don’t Know About

The week before he flew to Washington for his Supreme Court rendezvous with Vice President Cheney, I asked Club attorney Sanjay Narayan why we are seeking disclosure of documents related to the vice president’s 2001 energy task force. Don’t we already know what’s in these documents? Maybe we don’t have a printed guest list, but we know it included representatives from the fossil fuel industries, not wind turbine advocates or tree huggers.

True enough, said Narayan. There’s the scandal we know about, which is that energy executives wrote the energy bill. But a second possibility, he said, is that there’s a scandal we don’t know about—that the documents could reveal something about the alleged "overlap between energy policy and ‘rogue state policy.’"

This overlap was reported by Jane Meyer in a February New Yorker story about Cheney and Halliburton. She cited a National Security Council document directing staff to cooperate with the energy task force as it "considered the ‘melding’ of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: ‘the review of operational policies towards rogue states,’ such as Iraq, and ‘actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.’"

Club Executive Director Carl Pope alluded to that possibility as well in an April 23 interview on Bill Moyers’ NOW. Pope said yes, we know what the industry groups asked for and what they got. "What we don’t know," he said, "is what the administration gave up in return...for example, whether the oil industry was given advance information about the administration’s plans to invade Iraq."

Certainly there’s a place for secrecy, but the Bush administration has been using the pretext of national security to deny public access to information in unprecedented ways. For example, a month after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered all government agencies to deny Freedom of Information requests wherever possible. It’s not just Joe Public being kept in the dark either. In Meyer’s New Yorker story, California Representative Henry Waxman remarks that, in Iraq: "We can’t even find out how much Halliburton charges to do the laundry."

Information is no panacea, but it’s a starting point. Because of right-to-know provisions in the Superfund law, major polluters are required to document their emissions. We don’t know if these reports result in cleaner air and water. But reported emissions decreased by nearly 50 percent between 1988 and 1996. As Carl Pope says in his recently published book, Strategic Ignorance, for U.S. industries, "it was better business to clean up their toxic emissions than admit to their neighbors just how dirty they were."

John Byrne Barry

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