The Bush administration reluctantly released thousands of documents related to its energy task force Monday but left many of the pages blank, fanning a controversy over the role industry groups and campaign contributors played in shaping the president's energy plan.
In putting out 11,000 pages of documents, the Energy Department listed meetings that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham held with representatives of about 30 business groups.
But the documents did little to quell the legal and political controversy over the private meetings that administration officials had with outside groups while drafting an energy policy. Critics say the administration's plan is tilted toward production, rather than conservation.
Judicial Watch, one of the organizations that sued the government to release the documents, accused the administration of withholding key information and vowed to return to court. "They're withholding information that the public has a right to obtain," said Larry Klayman, head of the conservative watchdog group.
Energy Department officials contended that the department sought input from environmental groups as well as businesses and insisted that the energy plan was balanced.
The documents were provided to a variety of environmental groups and media organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, which had requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents show that the California energy crisis last year was a much-discussed topic at the Energy Department, with e-mails on the state's troubles often flagged as high priority. But in most cases, the content of the e-mails was left blank.
Typical of the documents made public was an e-mail sent by an Environmental Protection Agency staff member to an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Under the subject line "Clarifications," the page was blank.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that also sued for the records, said that the Energy Department's decision to wait to release the documents until nightfall was evidence of the administration's continuing resistance to provide details of the task force's private meetings.
"We're getting documents that the Bush administration fought for nearly a year to keep secret from the American public," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney with the council. "The Energy Department stalled until the last hours of the last day to comply with the judge's order."
Federal judges recently ordered the Energy Department and other federal agencies to make available documents relating to their work on the energy plan.
Despite those rulings, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is still pursuing its landmark lawsuit against the executive branch seeking details of the meetings, including who attended and what was discussed. The GAO contends that its authority as congressional auditor includes investigating not only how money was spent, but how policy was made.
Stating that Congress is overstepping its authority, the White House has refused to release the White House records on the task force meetings. Additionally, the administration has contended that releasing the information would set a bad precedent for future administrations seeking candid advice from outside experts.