I get the feeling today's installment of Cheney started out as a story about the Energy Task Force. It also tells the story of the Klamath fish kill and snowmobiles in Yellowstone. The big news, though, is Christine Todd Whitman's side of several issues, where Cheney blindly put business issues ahead of environmental requirements. In some ways, last week's Rolling Stone article on Cheney's involvement in climate change--which relies heavily on FOIAed documents--provides a valuable complement to the WaPo story, so I'm going to read them in conjunction. Doing so, I believe, closes the circle, shows how Cheney's unwavering ties to the energy industry drive the rest of his actions.
The WaPo describes the Energy Task Force as an unquestioning affirmation of business assertions that environmental regulations hamper business and energy development.
Sitting through Cheney's task force meetings, Whitman had been stunned by what she viewed as an unquestioned belief that EPA's regulations were primarily to blame for keeping companies from building new power plants. "I was upset, mad, offended that there seemed to be so much head-nodding around the table," she said.
Whitman said she had to fight "tooth and nail" to prevent Cheney's task force from handing over the job of reforming the New Source Review to the Energy Department, a battle she said she won only after appealing to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. This was an environmental issue with major implications for air quality and health, she believed, and it shouldn't be driven by a task force primarily concerned with increasing production.
Directly out of that effort, Rolling Stone suggests, arose the propaganda campaign that served to undercut EPA itself.
Bush's do-nothing policy on global warming began almost as soon as he took office. By pursuing a carefully orchestrated policy of delay, the White House has blocked even the most modest reforms and replaced them with token investments in futuristic solutions like hydrogen cars. "It's a charade," says Jeremy Symons, who represented the EPA on Cheney's energy task force, the industry-studded group that met in secret to craft the administration's energy policy. "They have a single-minded determination to do nothing - while making it look like they are doing something."
Cheney did two things. He made sure his people occupied important positions, as with Paul Hoffman, Cheney's former Congressional aide appointed as deputy assistant interior secretary for fish and wildlife and now deputy assistant secretary for performance, accountability and human resources. With the Hoffman's of the world, Cheney didn't need to give instructions, from the WaPo.
Hoffman, now in another job at the Interior Department, said Cheney never told him what to do on either issue -- he didn't have to.
"His genius," Hoffman said, is that "he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision."
But Cheney also let Exxon-Mobil reshape the institutions that might counter-act his goals, specifically the Council on Environmental Quality. After implementing Exxon-Mobil's changes, Cheney used it as his own "shadow EPA." From Rolling Stone:
Prior to joining the Cabinet, she sought personal assurance from Bush that the EPA would be able to call its own shots without deferring to the CEQ - the Council on Environmental Quality, a policy arm of the White House. As Whitman recalls it, Bush made no effort to mask his bureaucratic ignorance. "What's CEQ?" he asked blankly.
Cheney took full advantage of the president's cluelessness, bringing the CEQ into his own portfolio. "The environment and energy issues were really turned over to him from the beginning," Whitman says. The CEQ became Cheney's shadow EPA, with industry calling the shots. To head up the council, Cheney installed James Connaughton, a former lobbyist for industrial polluters, who once worked to help General Electric and ARCO skirt responsibility for their Superfund waste sites.
Industry swiftly took advantage of its new friend in the White House. In a fax sent to the CEQ on February 6th, 2001 - two weeks after Bush took office - ExxonMobil's top lobbyist, Randy Randol, demanded a housecleaning of the scientists in charge of studying global warming. Exxon urged CEQ to dump Robert Watson, who chaired the IPCC, along with Rosina Bierbaum and Mike MacCracken, who had coordinated the National Assessment.
In the end, each of the scientists on Exxon's hit list was replaced.
Note: some day we're going to need to come back and reassess whether Abramoff was part of this, or only a piker operating amateurishly in the field that Cheney already dominated. Sad thing is, whereas we're incarcerating Abramoff's plants, Cheney's bribers--and Cheney himself--remain at large. I only hope Griles--who surely participated in both schemes--gets chatty during his 10 months in prison.
Both articles are worth reading in depth, particularly the Rolling Stone one. But one important takeaway: a big part of Bush's unitary executive theory is premised on the notion that the voters' primary opportunity to act as a check on Presidential prerogative is at the voting booth, in expressing their vote. Never mind that Bush lost the 2000 election and received no mandate in 2004, after disenfranchising slews of African-Americans. These two articles read together (as well as the details of tax policy in yesterday's WaPo article) make it clear that Cheney countermanded the goals Bush espoused on the campaign trail. Witness the was Cheney's folks reversed Bush's plans to do something about carbon emissions.
Two days later, the climate "rethink" was laid out in a memo by a team of advisers loyal to Cheney - two of whom, Andrew Lundquist and Karen Knutson, would go on to lead the vice president's energy task force. The memo - provided to Rolling Stone by a former administration official - concluded that Bush's campaign promise to regulate CO2 "did not fully reflect the president's position" and that "it would be premature at this time to propose any specific policy or approach aimed at addressing global warming." [my emphasis]
This is no small matter. While Cheney continues to hide his actions in this area behind his executive privilege claims, these documents appear to prove that Cheney was not implementing Bush's policy, he was not deliberating to support Bush's stance. Rather, he was bypassing normal channels to implement his own policy.
Christine Todd Whitman was clearly a big source for both of these articles (and probably provided the memo mentioned in the last paragraph). While she remains intransigent over her actions following 9/11, she
appears ready to provide details of how she got completely rolled by Dick Cheney, including in the Energy Task Force. Hopefully, she and others will come forward now to offer the details that Cheney and Scalia have refused us so far, so we can finally demonstrate how our government--and our national security--got hijacked by big oil.