A federal appeals court Tuesday rejected the Bush administration's bid to stop a lawsuit that seeks to delve into the energy industry's ties to Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court said administration officials must turn over some information about the task force or list specific documents that they intend to withhold from the proceedings.
The administration argues that the lawsuit by the Sierra Club and a conservative group, Judicial Watch, is an unwarranted intrusion into the internal deliberations of the executive branch of government.
But Cheney and administration officials "have not satisfied the heavy burden" required for the appeals court to get involved in the case, wrote Appeals Court Judge David Tatel.
Bush administration officials have not even produced a log of documents they want to keep confidential, the appeals court said.
Appeals judges David Tatel and Harry Edwards rejected the administration's effort to stop the case. Judge A. Raymond Randolph dissented, declaring that "for the judiciary to permit this sort of discovery" into the actions of the executive branch "strikes me as a violation of the separation of powers."
Tatel said that if the administration is so concerned about unwarranted intrusion, it can "invoke executive or any other privilege" in an attempt to keep the material out of the public domain.
Federal agencies have disclosed 39,000 pages of internal documents related to the work of Cheney's energy task force, material which so far has yielded nothing.
The energy plan adopted four months after President Bush took office favored opening more public lands to oil and gas drilling and proposed a wide range of other steps supported by industry.
In December, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the investigative arm of Congress against the Cheney energy task force.
The General Accounting Office wanted to require the administration to identify industry executives, including some from now-collapsed Enron, who met last year with Cheney's energy task force.
U.S. District Judge John Bates said the suit, filed by Comptroller General David Walker against the vice president, was an unprecedented act that raised serious separation-of-powers issues between the executive and legislative branches of government.