New White House Adviser John Podesta: 'Unconventional Sources of Fossil Fuels Cannot Be Our Energy Future'
John Podesta, an advocate for strong climate action and opponent of the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, is joining the White House as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, the New York Times reports.
In a 2010 keynote address at Canada 2020’s “‘Greening’ The Oil Sands: Debunking the Myths and Confronting the Realities,” a Canadian conference promoting tar sands extraction, Podesta apologized for being the “skunk” at the “garden party” as he laid out his profound skepticism about “green” tar sands, comparing it to “clean coal” and “error-free deepwater drilling.”
Below are some key excerpts:
Today, there is almost unanimous agreement that we can add another cost to dependence on high-carbon fuels. And this one is beyond our ability to calculate.In January 2013, Podesta announced his opposition to Arctic drilling, saying in a Bloomberg op-ed that “there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean”:
Failing to curb our dependence on fossil fuels will create a world dramatically different than the one we’re currently accustomed to; one in which sea level rise, extreme weather, and reduced resource supplies will not only cause irreparable harm to ecosystems around the globe, but also tremendous human suffering and conflict.
Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive. These things are facts. I think suggesting this process can come close to approximating being “greened” is largely misleading, or far too optimistic, or perhaps both. It stands alongside clean coal and error-free deepwater drilling as more PR than reality.
Oil sands can’t simply be as good as conventional oil. We need to reduce fossil fuel use and accelerate the transition to cleaner technologies, in the transportation sector and elsewhere.
We either rapidly green the world’s engine of economic growth, or we suffer consequences that are very difficult to even fully comprehend, in addition to those we already tolerate. Unconventional sources of fossil fuels cannot be our energy future.
Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean. . . The Obama administration shouldn’t issue any new permits to Shell this year and should suspend all action on other companies’ applications to drill in this remote and unpredictable region.
“Moving beyond fossil fuel pollution will involve exciting work, new opportunities, new products and innovation, and stronger communities,” Podesta said in 2009 Congressional testimony.
In his annual address to the state of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) raised an urgent alarm about climate change in the wake of the Superstorm Sandy. “Climate change is real,” he said. “It is denial to say each of these situations is a once-in-a-lifetime. There is a 100-year flood every two years now. It is inarguable that the sea is warmer and there is a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now.”
President Barack Obama avoided such language in the days after Sandy struck. Obama’s second inaugural address is January 19, 2013.
The two-day conference will bring together stakeholders from across the government, renewable energy industry, and conservation community to discuss the administration’s efforts to rapidly and responsibly stand-up renewable energy projects on our nation’s public lands.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will open the workshop with a roundtable discussion about the Administration’s work to build a clean energy economy. Immediately following the roundtable, the Secretaries will hold a press conference to discuss how President Obama’s tax cuts are encouraging business investment and job creation in wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies.Roundtable Discussion with Secretaries Salazar, Chu, Vilsack
- Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior
- Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy
- Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
10:15 a.m. Press Conference
Department of the Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
All credentialed media are invited to cover the event. Please RSVP to email@example.com
From the Wonk Room.President Barack Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer he would have fired BP CEO Tony Hayward for his dismissive comments about the foreign oil giant’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. After relating Hayward’s “very big ocean,” “very very modest” and “I’d like my life back” comments, Lauer asked, “He doesn’t work for you, but if he did, would you want him out?” Obama replied that Hayward would be out of a job:
He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements.
Hayward’s dismissive comments are not unusual for BP management—Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, COO Doug Suttles, BP America President Lamar McKay, and Managing Director Bob Dudley have likewise minimized off the scale of the disaster and the devastation to the United States of America while overselling their failed attempts to stop the oil gusher, which may now be flowing at four million gallons a day.
According to National Incident Commander Thad Allen, Tony Hayward is still actively involved in the oil disaster response, discussing issues regularly with Allen. In addition to the failed efforts to stop the leaks, BP still controls claims processing, environmental contractors on land and sea, volunteer assistance, access to the disaster site, hotlines, and data collection.
From the Wonk Room.Although both immigration and climate reform are top priorities for the Obama administration, White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said, it is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who “sets the agenda.” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd questioned Barnes Monday morning over the conflict between Reid and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that derailed the expected unveiling of comprehensive climate legislation Monday. Barnes said that energy reform – what President Obama has called one of his “foundational priorities” – is “critical to this country,” while immigration reform is “important.” However, she repeatedly indicated that the responsibility for moving forward lies with Reid:
MELODY BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. Immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.
CHUCK TODD: Can either be signed this year?
BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.
Reid’s staff had leaked to reporters that the majority leader wanted the Senate to consider an immigration bill before climate legislation, a statement that made little sense other than a response to local political pressures. As Graham, who has been the lead Republican on both issues, voiced his displeasure, it seems neither Reid nor the White House reached out to quell his anger. Graham and Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) American Power Act is ready to be unveiled for direct floor consideration, but immigration reform requires “significant committee work that has not yet begun”—as Reid said. President Obama has been keeping his pledge to immigration reform advocates to raise the issue with Republicans like Sen. Scott Brown (D-MA) to get on board with Graham and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) immigration effort, but the two bills aren’t on the same timetable.
In addition to the fealty of most Republicans to killer fossil industries, Democrats have competing camps on the best pathway to energy action, with senators like Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) pushing for alternate strategies to President Obama’s comprehensive climate reform. Reid has waffled on whether he would be willing to risk conflict with Democratic committee chairs by taking climate reform straight to the floor. This potential conflict with senators like agriculture chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and finance chair Max Baucus (D-MT) would likely have to be mediated by the President, even as Graham would have the responsibility of locking down Republican votes other than himself.
TODD: I understand that there’s this idea that everybody here wants to walk and chew gum at the same time but we will know Washington sort of can handle one big issue at a time. Financial reform at some point feels like it’s going to wrap interrupt next couple weeks. It sounds like energy, immigration, can you really expect this town to handle both at the same time or is there going to have to be one over the other?
BARNES: When we walked in the door we inherited big problems. I think what this president has shown is he can handle a number of challenges at the same time.
TODD: Maybe he can but Congress is a different story. We know they have their priorities. I guess what I’m asking, would the White House accept immigration going before energy?
BARNES: What the president and administration want is to work with Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress to address these big issues. The Senate Majority Leader will make a decision how to go forward. immigration reform is important. We also know that comprehensive energy reform is critical to this country. We have to get away from reliance on foreign oil. We know we can create clean energy jobs. So both of these are top priorities for this president. We’re going to be working with the Senate.
TODD: Can either be signed this year?
BARNES: We’re hoping to move forward with the majority leader as he sets the agenda.
TODD: If he’s picking immigration, he’s setting the agenda.
BARNES: He’s the majority leader.
In a corporate statement released today, coal company Massey Energy criticized President Barack Obama for saying that “owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take.” Massey called the President’s remarks “regrettable,” and say that Mr. Obama “has been misinformed.”
Today’s statements by the White House about the Upper Big Branch tragedy are regrettable. We fear that the President has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general.
As to our record, we note that in 2009, under this administration, MSHA presented Massey Energy with three “Sentinels of Safety” Awards – the highest number of such awards ever received by one company in a single year.
There has been criticism regarding the backlog of violations that have been appealed. There have been violations at Upper Big Branch that the Company does not agree with and a number of those violations have been appealed. The percentage of violations appealed at UBB and Massey is similar to that for the industry as a whole.
The enormous backlog of appeals waiting to be heard has been frustrating to all involved. We urge Congress to appropriate the funds necessary to enable this system to work better by helping government regulators to resolve the enormous backlog at MSHA. Regardless of the backlog, however, it’s important to understand that all violations must be fixed and are fixed to the satisfaction of state and federal agencies before mines are allowed to continue operating. Most violations are fixed the same day they are discovered.
Massey believes in safety, accountability and responsibility. We seek the truth in the ongoing investigations and are cooperating with federal and state agencies to determine the cause of the tragic accident at Upper Big Branch Mine. Unfortunately, some are rushing to judgment for political gain or to avoid blame. Our goal is to communicate transparently as the facts unfold.
Today, President Barack Obama discussed the initial findings of an investigation by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Mine Safety and Health Administration chief Joe Main, and MSHA Administrator for Coal Mine Safety and Health Kevin Stricklin:
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. On April 5th, the United States suffered the worst mine disaster in more than a generation. Twenty-nine lives were lost. Families have been devastated. Communities have been upended. And during this painful time, all of us are mourning with the people of Montcoal and Whitesville and Naoma and the Coal River Valley. The people of West Virginia are in our prayers.
But we owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone. They ought to know that behind them there is a company that’s doing what it takes to protect them, and a government that is looking out for their safety.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, I asked the officials standing with me – Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Joe Main and Kevin Stricklin with the Mine Safety and Health Administration – to lead an investigation into what caused the explosion at Massey Energy Company’s Upper Big Branch mine. I asked them to report back with preliminary findings this week.
We just concluded a meeting, where they briefed me on their investigation. I want to emphasize that this investigation is ongoing, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know. But we do know that this tragedy was triggered by a failure at the Upper Big Branch mine—a failure first and foremost of management, but also a failure of oversight and a failure of laws so riddled with loopholes that they allow unsafe conditions to continue.
So today I’ve directed Secretary Solis, Assistant Secretary Main, and Administrator Stricklin to work closely with state mining officials to press ahead with this investigation—so we can help make sure a disaster like this never happens again. Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take. And I’ve asked Secretary Solis to work with the Justice Department to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.
But this isn’t just about a single mine. It’s about all of our mines. The safety record at the Massey Upper Big Branch mine was troubling. And it’s clear that while there are many responsible companies, far too many mines aren’t doing enough to protect their workers’ safety.
Larry Summers: Nuclear War And Climate Change Are The 'Only Two Ways Mankind Can Affect The Basic Terms Of Life On Earth'
Below is the text of the remarks from Dr. Lawrence Summers, the Director of the White House’s National Economic Council, to the U.S. Energy Information Administration Conference.
A few months before I came into government, my twin daughters completed their course in AP U.S. history at their local high school and I reviewed for their test with them. There were two aspects of that experience that stuck with me as I thought about my objectives in advising President Obama.
The first is that while I, as a macroeconomist, thought of the 1982 recession as a big deal, thought of the inflation of the 1970s as a big deal, thought about the 1987 stock market crash as a big deal, none of them got mentioned in my daughters’ history course.
On the other hand, they spent six weeks on the events of the 1930s.
And the lesson I took away, coming into office a year ago, was that our first priority had to be making sure that a depression was avoided. Making sure that the vicious cycle of deleveraging and contraction that then plagued the economy was first contained and then ultimately reversed. And so this was remembered as a very disturbing economic fluctuation, but not as the kind of depression that defined an era.
And the evidence, I think, suggests that the President has made very substantial progress with that objective.
- Fifteen months ago, a depression did not look unlikely as three-quarters of a million Americans were losing their jobs each month.
- The stock market was, after correcting for inflation, at 1966 levels.
- And the output was declining at 6 percent a quarter.
Today, we have a long way to go, but a 6 percent GDP loss in first quarter gave way to a 6 percent gain in GDP, according to the most recent statistics.
Markets have risen by 75 percent since last March as conditions have substantially normalized.
And while there are special factors and there will be fluctuations, the economy has begun to produce jobs again: 162,000 last month, the largest increase in the number of jobs in three years.
While we have a long way to go in an economy with 9.7 percent unemployment and $1 trillion short of potential, we are at last moving in the right direction.
As we move in the right direction, as this recovery unfolds, as what economists call the left tail of the distribution recedes in likelihood, it becomes essential that
- We think about the renewal of the American economy;
- We think about creating an economy with a stronger foundation for prosperity than the one that we inherited;
- We invest more and consume less;
- We technologically engineer more and we financially engineer less;
- We look to the long view and to the short view less;
- We compete in the global economy and we win.
To do so, in many areas, will require a change in our gestalt. Not the continuation of existing battles and of existing conflicts, but the reformulation of problems in new ways that permit us to cut across old debates and to as a nation move forward.
It is the accomplishment of those tasks of national economic renewal that are what came through again and again as what history remembered in that history course my daughters took.
Whether it was the land grant colleges and intercontinental railroad of President Lincoln, whether it was the Sherman Act and national parks and much more of President Theodore Roosevelt, whether it was the expansion of the concept of protection so as to save the market economy from itself with Social Security and unemployment insurance and deposit insurance of President Franklin Roosevelt, ultimately the most historically memorable accomplishments are those which renew our market system, which approach problems in different ways, and extend our efforts to create a more stable and more durable and more secure prosperity.
And it is that across a range of areas that will, I believe, define President Obama’s presidency when its history is written.
That was the motivation for the President’s historic battle for comprehensive health reform.
That was the motivation and is the continuing motivation for our efforts to insist that we rebuild our financial system and particularly the way in which it is regulated on a much more secure foundation after all the crises of the last generation.
And it is this approach of a new gestalt, a new view, a new paradigm, and a commitment to renewal that I believe needs to shape our approach to energy policy going forward.
To be sure, energy policy is about much more than economics.
There are only two ways in which mankind can affect the basic terms of life on earth on a planetary scale. One is what happens with respect to nuclear weapons. That’s outside my sphere, but in Prague later this week and in Washington next week we are making substantial progress with respect to the challenge of nuclear weapons.
The other, of course, is with respect to global climate change, where it is an imperative for this planet that we act so as to reduce the risks that current science points up.
Equally, it is imperative that we address the consequences of excessive dependence on oil for our national security. Our dependence on government-controlled oil supplies from the most politically fragile parts of the world represents a serious national security concern. And it’s one that at long last we have to address.
There are others who will speak at this conference who can speak more knowledgeably to those two challenges than I can. So I want to address the rest of my remarks to the relationship between our energy strategy and our broadest economic objectives.
What do I mean when I say reformulate our national energy policy base?
You know, we’ve been talking about the need for national energy policy strategies and the like, probably since the founding of the republic, but certainly with very great frequency and in every presidential campaign since the first energy shock of 1973. Nearly 40 years. And the debate, frankly, has fallen into a series of ruts.
- Is it going to be energy efficiency and conservation, or is it going to be increased exploration?
- Are we going to focus on renewable power, or are we going to focus nuclear power?
- Is our central objective environmental protection, or is our central objective economic progress? * Is our focus the profits for producers, or is it the costs for consumers?
I could give more examples. Those debates have their place and they have illuminated tradeoffs that policymakers ignore at their peril.
But I would say to you that if ever there was an issue where we needed to move from “either/or” to “both/and,” that it is energy.
Instead of debating the relative importance of the priorities of different camps on the left and on the right, of the Southwest and of those in New England, of those oriented to the economy or those oriented to the environment, instead we have the opportunity to move forward by embracing the priorities of multiple groups, by taking an eclectic approach to forming a new energy policy.
For this much is clear from the record of four decades when emissions have gone up, when dependence has increased, and when our goals again and again have not been met.
Which, I ask you, has greater danger going forward: that we will, in the name of comprehensive energy policy somehow do too much that will affect energy markets by encouraging efficiency or encouraging exploration, or that we will again miss the opportunity, that we will again not act strongly enough with respect to a gathering storm?
Read the history of great nations. Read how they succeed and read how they fail. Their ability to mobilize to solve problems before they are absolutely imminent crises is what determines their longevity. That’s why this task of economic renewal is so important broadly. And that’s why I believe it is so important that we move for economic reasons to pass comprehensive energy legislation.
I believe comprehensive energy legislation can contribute to our prosperity in five ways.
First, it will raise demand and create jobs.Under the Recovery Act:
- We will double the renewable energy capacity over the next three years.
- We will make critical investments in transformative technology.
- We will enhance the energy efficiency of federal buildings by 75%.
What better time is it to make these kinds of investments than now, when we have substantial unemployed resources?
And we are making them in the way that is most cost effective in terms of creating demand to a significant extent. If the government spends a dollar, that is a dollar of demand. If the government lends a dollar with a 10 percent credit subsidy because it is likely to be paid back, then the cost to the government is 10 cents, but the extra demand created can be a dollar before you even get to its multiplier effect as it reverberates through the economy.
That is why it’s so important that at a moment when credit markets are having their difficulties, albeit reduced difficulties, the Recovery Act has made significant credit available to support up to $40 billion in renewable energy and transmission.
Support for energy investment that creates demand and puts people back to work at a time of unemployed resources and excess capacity is the first way that energy policy strengths our economy.
Second, comprehensive energy legislation will reduce uncertainty and increase confidence. The cheapest stimulus program in the world is enhanced confidence.
I first met Ben Bernanke 35 years ago, when we were both graduate students in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His PhD thesis was an important part around exactly this point. He studied the question of the impact of uncertainty on investment. His example, when he talked about his work, was a boiler.
- If you knew the price of energy was going to be high, you’d be one kind of boiler.
- If you knew the price of energy was going to be low, you’d be another kind of boiler.
- If you didn’t know what the price of energy was going to be, you’d stick with your existing boiler for another year, waiting to see what was going to happen to the price of energy.
Until we pass comprehensive energy legislation, that is exactly what we are doing. We are creating an environment in which there is no certainty for someone building a new power plant.
There is no certainty for someone making the commitment to an industrial production process.
There is no certainty for someone thinking about the generation of automobile models after the current generation of automobile models, five or ten years out.
Clarity brings certainty, certainty brings confidence, and that is what moves the economy forward.
I would also say to you also that uncertainty is not just about our own future policy. Look at the full range of the distribution of oil prices as you can infer from options. As long as we are as dependent on foreign oil as we now are, there is a substantial uncertainty about the range of outcomes, and that too discourages investment, reduces confidence, and slows our economy relative to what we could have achieved.
Third, comprehensive energy legislation will reduce reliance on heavy-handed regulation and increase reliance on market forces.
This is true in our country and this is true around the world.
You know, the first rule of holes is that when you’re in a hole, you should stop digging. In that spirit, the first principle of rational energy policy is that when a fuel is associated with all kinds of what we economists call externalities, pollution locally, carbon dioxide globally, national security risks associate with importation, it is a bad idea to subsidize it.
Yet around the world, fossil fuel subsidies exceed $300 billion a year – $300 billion a year – and account for 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
I think there’s a chance that when the history is written the most important thing that happened in the last year was the agreement by the G20 countries that contain the vast majority of the world’s GDP to eliminate over time their energy subsidies. It doesn’t go far enough – ultimately the price of carbon is going to have to rise – but an elimination of those $300 billion of energy subsidies is a substantial step forward towards allowing market forces to operate in the energy arena.
It’s not just eliminating subsidies in other countries. It’s what we do here. Now I’m an economist, so I’m a bit of an evangelist for markets. But anyone who thinks about our energy policy debates has to be impressed by the record of the smaller-scale, because this is a smaller-scale issue, but similarly designed sulfur oxide program in the United States.
Many thought it was too hard to introduce a market. Many thought that the right answer was command-and-control legislation. But the fact is that by 2000 sulfur dioxide pollution had fallen nearly below 30 percent below 1990 levels, and the cost was a relatively small fraction of what everybody expected in 1990.
We are going to regulate fossil fuel emissions in the future. Much better than we do it with market based mechanisms than enable those who can economize most cheaply to be the ones who economize.
Allowing market forces to operate is the third reason why this is so important.
Adding flexibility for the private sector will be particularly important with respect to ensuring that we take advantage of the vast increase in our potential natural gas supplies that has been identified over the past several years.
Fourth, the right energy legislation will support what is for the very long run most important for our economy, which is our leadership in innovation.
If what’s true in the short run is that what determines how many people are working is how much demand there is for the products they’re willing to produce, what determines our standard of living in the long run is how productive we are. And that depends on our ability to innovate and bring those innovations to market.
In the nineteenth century, the technologies that reverberated across the economy included the transcontinental railroad, the telegraph, and the steam engine.
In the twentieth, it was the automobile, the jet plane, and, over the last generation, everything associated with information technology.
We can’t know exactly what the next defining innovation will be. It will come in multiple, different sectors. Each one of these technologies has their own story.
But think about maximizing potential and minimizing risk for our country.
Should we not seek to assure our leadership in energy and environmental technology, given their stake in some of the largest problems facing the planet?
That’s why the President’s energy agenda is directed at strengthening the economic ecology that has been so crucial for America’s prosperity – an educated workforce, a fluid environment that stimulates entrepreneurship.
When you think about the strengths and weaknesses of our country, never forget this: we are the only country in the world where, if you have a sufficiently good idea, you can raise your first $100 million dollars before you buy your first suit. That is, and that has been, a crucial feature of our country, and it is something we have to perpetuate.
Enacting comprehensive energy legislation will help our country move down the technological learning curves in key sectors associated with energy efficiency, associated with battery technology, associated with renewables, that will be economically important in the years ahead.
Finally, the emphasis on innovation is tied to my fifth and last point. Comprehensive energy legislation will strengthen our international competitive position. The twentieth century was an American century for many reasons. The size and scale of our country. The quality of our democracy. But I would say to you that it also had to do with our leadership in key science and technology.
The twentieth century was a century of physics. The atomic bomb, the nuclear reactor, the computer, the silicon chip, the transistor, the Internet. We led in all those technologies, and that was crucial to why we led the world.
No one knows exactly what will define leadership in the twenty-first century, but I would suggest to you that making sure that we lead as a developer of the technology is crucial.
I would suggest something else to you. Producers need markets. We are the largest economy in the world. If we use the fact that we are the largest economy in the world, and we will be for a good long time, to ensure that we are also the world’s largest market for innovative energy technology in every sphere, that will create a virtuous circle of innovation and adoption, adoption and innovation, that can be a very substantial source for our country in the new century.
Ultimately, economic policy choices, like investment decisions for a family, involve seeking opportunity and involve minimizing risk.
If you think about the risks to our ecology, the risks to our security, we minimize those risks with comprehensive energy policy.
And if you think about the opportunity to lead in what is really important, we maximize that opportunity with comprehensive energy legislation.
That’s why energy is so crucial a part of President Obama’s economic strategy.
Thank you very much.
Today, President Barack Obama announced a sweeping new offshore drilling policy, opening “vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling” for the first time. This plan would also restore the ban on drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. White House officials “pitched the changes as ways to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs,” the Associated Press reports. For years, Obama has explained that new offshore drilling would not “reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil” :
“The days of running a 21st century economy on a 20th century fossil fuel are numbered – and we need to realize that before it’s too late.”
“The truth is, an oil future is not a secure future for America.”
“We could open up every square inch of America to drilling and we still wouldn’t even make a dent in our oil dependency.” 9/15/05
“It would be nice if we could produce our way out of this problem, but it’s just not possible.” 2/28/06
“Instead of making tough political decisions about how to reduce our insatiable demand for oil, this bill continues to lull the American people into thinking that we can drill our way out of our energy problems. ” 8/1/06
“Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.” 8/28/08
In the beginning of August 2008, as Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF) “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign overlapped the presidential campaign, and oil and gas prices were skyrocketing to record levels, Obama abandoned his “blanket opposition to expanded offshore drilling,” saying that he would be willing “to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage” in order to get Republican votes for comprehensive climate and energy reform.
In 2005 and 2006, Obama talked about the “tough decisions” of “how to reduce our insatiable demand for oil” and “investing in more hybrids and renewable energy sources, raising CAFE standards and helping our auto industry transition to a fuel-efficient future,” instead of drilling. In his State of the Union speech in 2010, in contrast, Obama said that “clean energy jobs” means “making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”
Conservatives are treating the announcement with disdain— ASWF said the president’s plan “is likely to be an attempt by Obama to seduce the public (into) believing that he will do something in the future on offshore drilling,” but amounts to little more than window-dressing. Americans for Prosperity vice president Phil Kerpen commented that “the idea that this is a big concession in exchange for which Congress should jumpstart climate legislation is ridiculous.”
In this official transcript of a briefing delivered on Air Force One on the way back from Copenhagen, Denmark to Washington, D.C., a senior administration official (evidently Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) describes the unusual process President Obama took to craft the Copenhagen Accord with the leaders of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.
11:46 P.M. CET
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I just want to make sure everybody is cool with the rules here. We’re going to have probably a couple of these on this flight. What I want to do though, on background as a senior administration official, I want to go through a series of events that led up to the President going into what we had set up as a bilateral meeting with Premier Wen. So I just want to get—I want everyone to be clear on this set of events. So let me go through this timeline and then we can go through questions. And bear with me because I sometimes can’t even read my own writing.
At the first bilateral meeting with Premier Wen, the President, as we have done over the past several days, was pushing quite hard on transparency language. And we had given some transparency language to them and negotiators on our side had gone to work with their side on the notion of transparency.
Q The language was before the meeting, though? Was given to them before the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, say again.
Q When you said, “we had given language to them,” you meant before their bilat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was during the bilat. So this was at the end of the bilat and the President says to Wen that he thinks our negotiators should get together, spend about an hour seeing if we can make some progress – because in all honesty, rhetorically, we were hearing what we wanted to hear about steps that they were willing to take on transparency, but wanted to make sure that we would have something to agree on that wasn’t just them agreeing to agree.
So the President at that point – you guys will have some times in your email to go through – but remember there comes a point in which you should have gotten from Kevin Lewis, via an update from me, that says the President has gone to the multilateral meeting and representing the Chinese was their climate change ambassador in the ministry of foreign affairs, who was in this meeting – to put it, I guess, accurately – as to speak for the entire Chinese government.
It’s at this point that the President, before our Medvedev bilateral, the President said to staff, I don’t want to mess around with this anymore, I want to just talk with Premier Wen. So we were trying to do that before the Medvedev bilat. Our advance team called their advance team to try to set this meeting up, and in all honesty make one more chance, make one more run at getting something done. The Chinese say they need to call our advance guys back. So it’s clear that it’s going to take some time to get this Wen meeting done, so we’re going to go ahead and do the Medvedev bilat earlier than was on the schedule.
And as the President waited for Medvedev to be – to move the delegation down into the room, the President also says to staff, we should meet in a group of three with Lula of Brazil, Singh of India, and Zuma of South Africa. All right. So, let’s get a meeting with Wen, let’s get a meeting with these three guys.
We get a call back from advance that Wen is at the hotel and the Chinese staff are at the airport.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know what level of staff, but some of their staff – a decent chunk of their staff was at the airport.
Q So they had all left the Bella Center?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Including Wen – and that was news to you guys -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wen was at the hotel.
Q Oh, he was at the hotel.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Indians – when we called also about Zuma, Lula and Singh, we were told Singh was at the airport.
Q Do you consider that a walk-out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think they thought the meeting was done. I think they thought there wasn’t anything left to stay for, in all honesty.
Q That was around 4:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’d have to – my sense is probably closer to 4:00 p.m. So we basically – we set times for when we want to have these meetings. We called the advance for each of these countries. We want to do – we had given the Chinese to a certain point before we were going to lock in first the other meetings. So we hadn’t heard back from the Chinese so we lock in first the notion at 5:30 p.m. we’d like to meet with the three, Zuma, Lula and Singh. And then at 6:15 p.m. – the Chinese called back – we didn’t know if they were going to call back, at 6:15 p.m. we lock in that we’re going to do a bilateral meeting with Premier Wen.
Zuma originally accepted this 5:30 p.m. multilateral meeting. Brazil tells us that they don’t know if they can come because they want the Indians to come. The Indians, as I just said, were at the airport. Zuma is under the impression that everybody is coming. Advance basically tells the South Africans that at this point the Brazilians are unclear about meeting without the Indians, the Indians are at the airport, and Zuma at that point says, well, if they’re not coming I can’t do this.
The Chinese then call and say, can we move our 6:15 p.m. bilateral back to 7:00 p.m. And we said – we put them on hold, talked a little bit, the President walked up, the President said, move it to 7:00 p.m., I’m going back to the multilateral. The President goes to the multilateral and we had been getting emails at this time from those in the European delegation about – because the President had left that first multilateral – or the previous multilateral after the deputy foreign minister for climate change had been there representing the Chinese and saying, I’m going to go find and talk to Wen. All right, we’re going to do this Wen thing. So the Europeans are wondering sort of where we were with Premier Wen.
He spent about 45 minutes in the bilateral meeting -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL #2: In the multilateral.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, in the multilateral meeting; thank you. That’s with the Europeans, that’s with Ethiopians. At the very -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So this would have been, quite frankly, leading up to about 7:00 p.m.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL #2: After Medvedev.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, after Medvedev. We said – a couple of us start to walk up to the room where the multilat is because we had sent advance to look at the room, the room where we were going to have the China bilat and realize the room is occupied by what we think are the Chinese and we can’t get into the room to look at it.
So they come back and it sort of got our antennae up a little bit. So by the time several of us, including Denis McDonough and I, got into the multilateral room we’ve now figured out why we can’t get into that room: because that room has Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma. They’re all having a meeting.
Q So they weren’t at the airport?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Or they came back.
Q And you guys didn’t know this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We did not know this. We are getting – I can show you some of the emails that we’re getting saying – because truthfully I asked one of the advance guys, did you see anybody else in the hallway? And he said, just clearly Chinese.
Q So Wen -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma. But we’re starting to get emails one by one, hey Zuma is in this room, too; hey, Singh is in this room, too. So all of a sudden that’s when we start to make sure we’re walking up to the multilateral room. The President is beginning to leave. He spends time right before he leaves – this would have been right before 7:00 p.m., the President is talking with Chancellor Merkel and Gordon Brown about going for this bilateral meeting with Premier Wen, that they had rescheduled for 7:00 p.m.
Again, we thought we were still on for a bilateral meeting. That’s when our delegation walked over. We held and I think Ben moved the pool because we had heard at this point previous to this that the pool for the Chinese had been assembled outside of this room. And we had the President wait for a minute while Ben moved the pool so that – we had heard that they were going to pre-set without any of us. So we had the President hold.
That’s I think when many of you start to pick up this story. This is when I think you, in the pool report, said, you know -
Q When he said, are you ready, are you ready?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Are you ready for me? We were going to -
Q You were going to crash their meeting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, no, no, no, no. We weren’t crashing a meeting; we were going for our bilateral meeting.
Q And you found those other people there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We found the other people there. We found this out as we were going -
Q So as you walked in you realized it -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We found this out – remember, we found this out as Denis and I are walking up to the room to go with the President, because the delegations were the same for the Wen bilat, Denis, Ben and I were both in the delegation for the original Wen bilat. That’s when the President walks in – Helene has in the pool report, you know, “Are you ready for me?”
Q Is it correct to say that when he walked in he didn’t know?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t – I think it’s safe to say they did not intend to have that meeting with four of them; they intended to have that meeting with one. The President walks in – and by the time I finally push through I hear the President say – there aren’t any seats, right, I mean, I think if you’ve seen some of the pictures, there were basically no chairs. And the President says, “No, no, don’t worry, I’m going to go sit by my friend Lula,” and says, “Hey, Lula.” Walks over, moves a chair, sits down next to Lula. The Secretary of State sits down next to him.
And that leaves us at a series of events that Doug and others covered where there’s pushing and that would have been at 7:00 p.m. local time, so 1:00 p.m. sort of East Coast Time.
Q When the President -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just – I want to do a couple things now. They’re still meeting back in Copenhagen. We’re going to get some regular updates, and as we get some updates, our hope and goal is to provide you then a little bit more context. Then we’ll start then at 7:00 p.m., or 1:00 p.m Eastern, because there’s several more twists in this road before we get to I think my notes have it at about – that whole meeting concludes about 8:15 p.m.-8:20 p.m. But there’s a whole lot of fun in between.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me take a few -
Q Can I clarify two just sort of factual points. You said at one point that the President left the multilateral because of the level of Chinese representation – is that right, that he – basically he said, I’m out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say this – I think the President realized, based on a meeting that – meetings that he’d had in Beijing with Premier Wen and the bilateral, he felt like he had a very good relationship with Premier Wen, and quite frankly, if the Chinese were going to make – if the Chinese were going to move on transparency, it wasn’t going to be through the deputy mining minister – right?
Q Is that what the guy is, deputy mining minister?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I was just – sort of a joke. But, no, he’s the – I think we sent it around – he’s the -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL #2: Climate change ambassador.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: – climate change rep for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But in all honesty, it’s a position lower than the person that was in the original multilateral when we got there -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, yes. So I think at that point, the President – I think the President understands that he wants to make one more run at this, but he wants to make one more run at this with Premier Wen.
Q And later in the – when he was going up to the meeting that turned into the multilateral, is it your thought that they meant to have a meeting with each other to exclude the United States, or get their ducks in a row, or what was going on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will assume that their meeting was to get their ducks in a row. Because at this point, though our – certainly our impression was that a number of these people were either at or on the way to the airport. We had confirmed with the Chinese before he went to the multilateral the second to last time – the last time being right before the press conference – but the second to last time, that we had just then agreed to move the bilateral meeting that we wanted to set up with the Chinese to 7:00 p.m. So we believed, up until about two minutes before Denis and I walked into the multilateral, before moving to the 7:00 p.m. meeting, that we were having a bilateral meeting.
Q But it’s not – it shouldn’t be too big of a surprise because those four countries have been working as a negotiating team on this issue, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly no surprise. Again, we were trying to put together a similar meeting, but found the logistics to be hard to do. And I think I know now why the logistics proved somewhat challenging. They were busy; they were meeting.
Q Was it logistics, or were they trying to have their own separate meeting without the U.S. involved?
Q Were they trying to scuffle the deal and get together and -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know that they were trying – I don’t know where they were on the deal. I know that the – again, the President’s viewpoint was I’m going to make one last run. When it appeared we couldn’t get the Chinese earlier in the day, the President said, well, if we can’t get the Chinese then let’s get the next three that are – absolutely they’re working as a team. They’ve got similar interests, there’s no doubt about that.
Again, the only surprise we had, in all honesty, was we did not know at 6:15 p.m., when we moved our meeting from 6:15 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., that in that room wasn’t just the Chinese having a meeting about their posture going into the 7:00 p.m. meeting, but in fact all four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with were indeed all in the same room.
Q Well, when did that become clear? When the President goes to that meeting does he think he’s going to meet Wen, and walks in the door and is, like, oh, everyone is here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. Denis and I had told him that – we had told him -
Q That they were all in there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: – that the room that the meeting is being held in for our bilateral currently contains the leaders of those four countries. And he said, “Good.”
Q That was his thought – good?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And we were off.
Q Can I ask one logistical -
Q So he said, “Good,” and, I’m going to go up there at 7:00 p.m. for my prior appointment with Wen -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said, “Good,” on the way to walking to the meeting. I mean, we had a 7:00 p.m. meeting and we were walking on our way to meet our 7:00 p.m. meeting. We briefed him that our 7:00 p.m. meeting is in a room currently occupied by not just the Chinese, but the three other countries. And the President’s viewpoint is, I wanted to see them all and now is our chance.
Q Were they waiting for him there? Is that why they were all there, because they knew he was coming?
Q Was there surprise when he walked in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the Chinese were waiting for us. I do not believe they anticipated that the meeting that we ultimately had would actually include all the countries. There’s no doubt -
Q They thought you guys would wait until they were done?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know whether they thought we would – there really wasn’t anybody to – actually I think we were shown into the room, in all honesty. I think we were shown which direction to go to the room and I think there was no doubt there was some surprise that we were going to join the bigger meeting.
Q I’ve got to ask why you didn’t have better intel – and I don’t mean in the CIA sense – on where all these people were? I mean, it’s not -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We did. We thought they were at the airport.
Q Right, exactly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, that’s what we were told.
Q But, you know, you’re all sort of in a close area there. Why didn’t anybody from the administration know where all these people were? I mean -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it’s not our job to know where Prime Minister Singh is if his – if we’re told he’s at the airport.
Q But usually at these summits there’s a lot of Sherpa-tracking going on and that sort of thing, you know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, I – I mean, we were – we were told they were at the airport. We were told delegations were split up. We were told they weren’t going to meet – Zuma wasn’t going to come unless he was under the impression that the other two were going to come.
Q Do you think that’s all part of the brinksmanship and the sort of horse-trading and maneuvering?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly think that they – well, my gut instinct tells me that they knew they had to make one more run at this.
Q One more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One more run at this.
Q But there’s this – what they call a taxicab strategy, when you always threaten to walk out. I mean, do you think that’s what -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they didn’t threaten to walk out. When we tried to set up the meetings we were told they were gone. I mean, if they employed that strategy they didn’t lay down the threat.
Q Can I ask a logistical question just about when – I mean, because we’re all on the plane and we land at 1:00 a.m. in the morning -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If we’re lucky.
Q If we’re lucky.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If somebody wants to type this up and call it in, I will tell them that that’s fine to do – largely because I want to be – I want to make clear, we did not break into what we thought was a secret meeting, okay? Again, the reason that we appeared at the room – the reason we appeared at the room was at – in the 5:00 p.m. hour the Chinese wanted to move their 6:15 p.m. meeting back to 7:00 p.m. in the room that they had for their meetings. We said, fine. We were walking to meet our 7:00 p.m. appointment.
Q Well, you guys want – I mean, can we – because are we going to try and get this in for tonight? Or – I just want to make sure that – the one thing I just want to make sure doesn’t happen is a transcript lands and some – and we don’t somewhere -
Q I’m more interested in what happens between 7:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s a good story, my friend, and with a little luck we’ll be able to tell that at a little bit later leg on the flight.
Q That’s what I mean. So we, like hold – are we holding everything until we land? Or are we trying to, like -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just want to make sure – I don’t want to be – just again, I just want to make sure that – the reason I gave you this series of events is because to accurately portray just sort of what is happening and when. We did not – again, our presence at that room at 7:00 p.m. was expected based on the meeting that we had set up. Whether or -
Q With Wen.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Whether or not the other – fair enough we did not know the other three were there until at a point at which we were about to go and walking to that meeting.
Q And you and Denis told the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Denis and I -
Q Was anybody mad about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We thought this was a great opportunity to finish four meetings.
Q The other guys.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, it’s hard to tell because the truth is – and we’ll get into this on the next leg of this – there were – quickly dove into about an hour and 20 minutes worth of negotiating that – I want to do this part off the record.
- * * * *
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, the President believed that he needed to talk to Wen, they needed to make one more run at getting an agreement. So he’s in this meeting – this is the group of leaders that we first visit in the very beginning of the morning. So it is comprised of – obviously you’re going to take the four out that are already in the different meeting. So you’ve got a pretty decent cross-section, first, of – you’ve the Europeans – you’ve got Merkel, Brown, Sarkozy; you’ve got Rudd from Australia; you’ve got Rasmussen from Denmark. You’ve also got Meles from Ethiopia; you’ve got Mexico, Norway – so you basically have the smaller developing countries, Europe, Australia, Scandinavia – so you basically have the larger group minus the four that he ultimately sees.
This larger group had come to the conclusion that the agreement would either – they needed to make one more run at two main points. One of them was the percent reduction by 2050 and the temperature change, as well as the transparency; that they had to do that with Wen or they were not going to get an agreement.
So, at this point – so the President went around to – went around the table, physically walking around the table, talking to Ethiopia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, the Maldives – all these countries to talk about what they were going to go – what he was going to go do in making a last run at Premier Wen. And they talked about the fact that if they didn’t – if they went to Wen and they couldn’t get an agreement, that basically they would still try to structure something for those that would sign on in order to continue to make progress toward something in the future.
So essentially the President has – is working with Europe, Asia – I’m sorry, Europe, Australia, and others in the developed – of the developed economies, in addition to the smaller developing countries minus India, China, Brazil, and South Africa, which is essential in ensuring that, in all honesty, the other four realized – this is where I think the other four realized that they’ve got to make one more run at this, too, because what they were – what the President was discussing along with this group was, if they couldn’t get something that included China, India, Brazil, and South Africa on transparency and temperature mitigation, that they would get what they could with who they could get it with.
So you basically have – you’ve got – you’ve now got two different coalitions. All right.
Q I just don’t understand your last sentence – they would get what they could with who they could get it with.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, basically if the Chinese were unwilling to do transparency, and the Indians and the Brazilians and the South Africans followed the Chinese, then the President and those in that multilateral group would try to get something that all they could agree on, and we would go out with all of that.
I mean, look, I think it’s safe to say at that point in the day, China had real – they were balking at transparency. The President thought at the very least we could get – we can make progress on something by putting together a coalition of those that were agreeable to having some sort of declaration or agreement.
Q And that coalition included both developing and developed countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, and that obviously is the key to -
Q Like you could create leverage against the four outstanding.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, yes. I think that’s why people stowed their luggage in their overhead bins and decided to come back to the negotiating table. Came back from the airport.
All right? Thanks, guys.