WASHINGTON – A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force in 2001 – something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress.
The document, obtained this week by the Washington Post, shows that officials from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc. met in the White House complex with the Cheney aides who were developing a national energy policy, parts of which became law and parts of which are still being debated.
In a joint hearing last week of the Senate Energy and Commerce committees, the chief executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips said their firms did not participate in the 2001 task force. The president of Shell Oil said his company did not participate “to my knowledge,” and the chief of BP America Inc. said he did not know.
Chevron was not named in the White House document, but the Government Accountability Office has found that Chevron was one of several companies that “gave detailed energy policy recommendations” to the task force. In addition, Cheney had a separate meeting with John Browne, BP’s chief executive, according to a person familiar with the task force’s work; that meeting is not noted in the document.
The task force’s activities attracted complaints from environmentalists, who said they were shut out of the task force discussions while corporate interests were present. The meetings were held in secret and the White House refused to release a list of participants. The task force was made up primarily of Cabinet-level officials. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club unsuccessfully sued to obtain the records.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who posed the question about the task force, said he will ask the Justice Department today to investigate. “The White House went to great lengths to keep these meetings secret, and now oil executives may be lying to Congress about their role in the Cheney task force,” Lautenberg said.
Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment on the document and said that the courts have upheld “the constitutional right of the president and vice president to obtain information in confidentiality.”
The executives were not under oath when they testified, so they are not vulnerable to charges of perjury; committee Democrats had protested the decision by Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, not to swear in the executives. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making “any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress.