John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Wednesday the refusal to meet with the environmentalists stands in sharp contrast to the eight meetings Abraham had with energy and business groups in early 2001 to discuss the energy plan.
Energy Department spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto disputed claims that Abraham was not interested in talking to environmentalists.
She said the February letter from environmentalists requesting a meeting "appears to be a form letter" to discuss energy "in fairly broad terms."
"Had they requested a meeting specifically to discuss the national energy policy and their ideas they would have gotten a different response," said Lopatto. "We were reaching out to people, especially environmental groups, to get their input."
The letter, dated Feb. 20, 2001, from the Green Group, a coalition of major environmental organizations, asked Abraham "to set aside a short while (in mid-March) to discuss important energy and environmental concerns."
It was signed by Fred Krupp, executive director of Environmental Defense. A few days after it was sent, Abraham's appointments secretary called to say Abraham was too busy, according to the environmentalists.
Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force issued its report in May.
In March, Abraham held separate meetings with groups representing the nuclear industry, the oil industry and public utility industries to discuss the energy plan, according to documents released this week. He held no meetings on the plan with environmentalists or advocates for energy efficiency or renewable energy sources.
The environmentalists also asked to meet with Cheney, but that request too was denied. Instead, members of the Green Group met with Andrew Lundquist, the task force director, on April 4.
"Big energy companies all but held the pencil for the (energy) task force," said Adams at a news conference where NRDC attorneys discussed some of the 11,000 pages of documents the Energy Department provided the group under a court order.
Lopatto said "it should come as a surprise to no one that the energy secretary consults with energy experts. That is his job, that is something we have done from day one."
"What's the news?" asked Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the Senate minority leader.
"The Energy Department talked to people who can produce more energy; EPA talked to people about environmental issues; and Interior reviewed public lands information. Focusing the task force's attention ... seems to have made for an efficient operation."
NRDC attorney Sharon Buccino said the documents released Monday in response to an NRDC lawsuit were "scrubbed, purged and sanitized" but still provide the "first hard evidence" of the influence the energy industry had in crafting the Cheney energy report.
But she said NRDC was filing papers with the federal court seeking a hearing to get additional documents released. She expressed astonishment that among the 11,000 pages she could find only one document mentioning Enron, which had been an aggressive advocate on energy issues in Washington before it collapse.
"We're in court asking for what was left out," said Buccino.
The Energy Department, in releasing the documents, maintained it had sought out environmental organizations, but suggested a lack of interest. "Even though contact was sometimes unsuccessful, DOE actively sought all viewpoints," the department said.
"That's the biggest lie since Richard Nixon," snapped Buccino.
Overall, in connection with the energy plan, Abraham met with representatives of at least 20 energy corporations and trade associations that gave more than $3 million to Republicans from 1999 through 2001. Democrats received at least $1.1 million from the same sources in the same period.
The Energy Department has said its extensive contact with industry executives and lobbyists who are major GOP donors was a necessary part of formulating the administration's energy plan.
"It should come as a surprise to no one that the energy secretary consults with energy experts, and whether or not these experts have made campaign contributions to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is not an issue," Lopatto said Tuesday.