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A Sierra Club suit seeking information about whom the Bush administration consulted in designing its energy policy has been jettisoned to Washington, D.C. Ruling from the bench Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the Northern District of California sent the case from San Francisco to a federal court in the nation’s capital, where the Sierra Club will join the watchdog group Judicial Watch in an identical action pending there. “It is clear, based on what little I do know, what you all put in your papers,” that the two cases present identical issues, Hamilton said. The Sierra Club’s suit is one of five filed against the federal government seeking records of the National Energy Policy Development Group, also known as the Cheney Energy Task Force. The government has so far refused to release the records. After the collapse of Enron Corp., whose close relationship with top administration officials has been well detailed, the effort to obtain those records has intensified. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has also filed a complaint in a dispute the administration has said implicates broad constitutional issues. All the other suits were filed in Washington, D.C. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, of the District of Columbia, had already invited amicus briefs in the Judicial Watch case, and the Sierra Club intends to submit one. But the 110-year-old environmental group clearly wanted to pursue its own case in San Francisco, its base of operations. Sierra Club lawyer Alex Levinson cited what he called the government’s “gamesmanship and arbitrary conduct” as reason to deny the government’s motion, even going so far as to utter the words “forum shopping,” before adding that it “is not for me to say.” The government countered that there is little difference between the two suits and that in the interest of justice, the Sierra Club action should be transferred. “Judge Sullivan has already taken many steps so that they won’t be prejudiced in any way,” argued Justice Department lawyer Jennifer Paisner. Judicial Watch’s opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss in the D.C. case is due this week. A hearing on a motion to dismiss will be held in early May. Both cases were brought under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which governs the formations and conduct of presidential advisory commissions. The other suits don’t invoke the act. Hamilton pointed to that as reason to let Judge Sullivan decide the issues, rather than risk two different results in federal courts on either side of the country. “We welcome the participation of the Sierra Club, and it will not affect our timetable,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. Sierra Club v. Cheney, 02-0462, was filed against Vice President Dick Cheney, the National Energy Policy Development Group and various federal officials.

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