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Going after Cheney's task force?

Vice President Dick Cheney in Vilnius, Lithuania, before his stop in Kazakhstan.

KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush is making nice with newly empowered Democratic leaders this week. It was lunch with Nancy Pelosi, the incoming Speaker of the House today. The two said they had a fine time. But her party clearly has the knives out for some of President Bush's allies in the oil and gas industry.

The Democrats say one of their priorities will be repealing some of the tax breaks Big Oil got in last year's Energy bill. There could also be investigations into the controversial task force that engineered that particular piece of legislation. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


SARAH GARDNERS: This controversy dates back to early 2001, before the terrorists attacks of 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force had started drafting a White House energy policy. But the meetings were held in secret. Environmentalists complained they were shut out in favor of industry bigwigs. Sharon Buccino is with the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council.
SHARON BUCCINO: There were a couple of symbolic meetings that occurred with environmentalists, but the people who had access to the decision makers at the highest level were the oil and gas companies.

Critics feared the fossil-fuels industry was writing the nation's energy policy. A congressional watchdog agency demanded that the administration disclose exactly who met with the task force. The White House refused. Then-White House press secretary Ari Fleisher.

ARI FLEISHER:"A good government is a government that is allowed to have a certain level of deliberations in private. They're allowed to have a certain level of meetings that take place so that ideas can be developed, that thoughts can be given, ideas can be shared."

Lawsuits followed. The controversy landed in the Supreme Court where the Vice President prevailed. Democrat Henry Waxman will likely chair the House Government Reform Committee in the new Congress. He complains the resulting legislation gave short shrift to conservation and alternative fuels.

HENRY WAXMAN:"It's the legislation that's provided the billions of dollars of tax breaks and subsidies for oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries."

Darren Goode, a reporter for Congress Daily, says with high gas prices and record oil company profits, Democrats might be tempted to work that to their political advantage in hearings.

DARREN GOODE:"It's something that I think still resonates now simply because it allows Democrats to differentiate themselves from the Republicans as far as their energy policy initiatives."

But many believe an investigation would be a political risk, especially since the courts sided with Vice President Cheney. Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute:

NORMAN ORNSTEIN:"When it comes to something like this, where they have judicial justification, the Administration is just going to stonewall. How far do you want to take that if you're the governing party and you want to show the American people that you can govern."

Congressman Waxman said this week an investigation into Cheney's task force was possible but unlikely.

Democrat John Dingell, on track to chair another key committee, said he's interested in hearings. Though he acknowledged it might be difficult.

There've been enough abuses, Dingell said, that "If we can't fruitfully inquire into that one, there will be other things we can take a look at."

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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