The Washington Post's superb investigative series on Vice President Cheney's behind-the-scenes role in this administration last week painted a fascinating picture. While the piece on environmental policy focused mostly on lands and endangered species issues, given that energy policy is once again on the front burner in Congress, now seems an opportune time to revisit Cheney's covert drafting of the Bush administration's energy plan (with the help of the fossil fuel industries of course).

Some may remember that Sierra Club sued Vice President Cheney and the Energy Task Force seeking an accounting of energy industry participation in the crafting of the destructive policy, which has continued to rely on subsidies to polluting and outdated fossil fuel industries. Cheney and the administration fought our efforts to expose the secret meetings of the task force all the way to the Supreme Court where they ultimately prevailed. But there is one meeting that we know all the details of, because I was there.

Back in the spring of 2001, the national crisis was also energy -- only it was electricity, not gasoline, global warming or national security that dominated the headlines. Vice President Cheney was heading up the secret Energy Task Force that in April released a report suggesting that if we only gave the oil and gas and nuclear industry everything they wanted, the lights would stay on. The Vice President then went to Toronto and made his famous statement that "conservation might be a sign of personal virtue," but that it couldn't serve as a national energy policy.

Only after the report came out, and only after the Sierra Club and others loudly complained that environmental groups and the public had been completely shut out of the process, did Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby call me to set up a meeting. We invited several other environmental groups to join us, and I flew to DC for my first and only White House meeting of the Bush years. Cheney joined Libby and three other White House policy staff for the first half hour of the meeting. He told us that the Administration was on the verge of taking mandatory steps to curb global warming emissions (they still haven't), that they were genuinely open to efficiency and renewables as a part of the energy policy solution (they weren't), and that he looked forward to an ongoing dialogue (there was no second meeting).

We walked out of the White House right into a gaggle of reporters and cameras, a feature that Libby had not arranged for any of the previous meetings he had scheduled for Enron, Exxon, or Peabody Coal. (In fact, the White House spent almost four years in court arguing the public had no right to any information at all about the Cheney Task Force.) But Libby, it turned out, was more than happy to have the press know that the Vice President had met with the Sierra Club. All we could tell the reporters was that we had just had a surreal experience in which the White House had told us, in effect, that its Energy Task Force policy wasn't really its policy, that the Report wasn't really the Report, and that everything might be reopened, and that we hoped they meant it. (They didn't.)

Of course, very few Americans were fooled into thinking that Cheney had really embraced energy efficiency or renewables. Scooter Libby's skilled if brazen orchestration of our meeting certainly didn't fool the environmental movement. Of course, Cheney did get away with it. Looking back, I wonder whether their success with this and other capers reinforced the belief of Libby, and his boss, that reality really isn't important -- all that matters are appearances and assertions.

And so much of Cheney's energy plan finally ended up in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This year, Congress has the ability to turn away from those dirty technologies of yesterday and instead embrace the smart energy solutions that will fuel the economy of tomorrow. The energy bill that passed through the Senate starts us in the right direction. It's now up to the House to strengthen that start with fuel economy, a renewable electricity standard and real investment in energy efficiency.