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A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Energy Department to release thousands of records on Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, criticizing the government for moving at “a glacial pace.” The ruling by Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia could undermine the efforts of President George W. Bush’s administration to keep secret the names of industry executives and lobbyists who met with the White House as it formulated its energy plan last spring. The General Accounting Office, which is Congress’ investigative unit, and a conservative group, Judicial Watch, have filed separate lawsuits trying to force the White House to turn over the material. Starting March 25, the Energy Department must turn over its documents to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an independent environmental group based in New York. It must complete the task by April 10. The department had asked to release the material in stages, beginning March 15 and ending May 15. The environmental group first asked for the documents last April 26 and sued the government in December. The Energy Department and other federal agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, while the White House is not. “I don’t know that it’s possible for certain to tell what the documents will reveal, but obviously the DOE stonewalled us for almost a year and they presumably had a reason to do that,” said Rob Perks, a spokesman for the environmental group. The government says 7,500 pages on Cheney’s task force are responsive to the NRDC’s request. The department will continue to withhold many documents and will issue a list of them along with the legal reasons they are being kept secret. “There can be little question that the Department of Energy has been woefully tardy” in processing the nonprofit group’s request, wrote Kessler. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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