Press Briefing by Ambassador Kantor, U.S. Trade Representative, Carol Browner, Administrator of the EPA Webb Hubbell, Associate Attorney General Tim Wirth, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, and William Daley, Special Counsellor to the President for NAFTA William Frenzel, Special Adviser to the President on NAFTA
The Briefing Room
3:05 P.M. EDT
MR. DALEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Bill Daley. Bill Frenzel and I are the coordinators of the NAFTA effort for the administration. And we are very pleased to be here. We are, of course, pleased by the decision of the Court of Appeals. NAFTA, we know, creates jobs and improves the environment. And any cloud as to the schedule of NAFTA has been lifted and we are
very pleased with that.
We have today Ambassador Kantor, Carol Browner, Webster Hubbell, and Tim Wirth who will speak, and then after they're finished they will each answer questions.
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Thank you, Bill. I first want to say that everyone up here had a hand in this important decision today. But I especially want to point out that Administrator Browner and her agency have not only been involved in this case but also involved in reviewing environmental aspects of NAFTA, helping USTR but also were so involved and so important to the negotiation we just finished which is -- of course we're very proud of -- which is the first and most important environmental side agreement ever connected to a trade agreement.
As you know, NAFTA is about changing unfair rules that Mexico has had for years which has hurt American workers. It's about jobs and -- creating them in this country, which it does. It's about making America more competitive. But it's also about cleaning up the environment.
And this morning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit announced its unanimous decision that the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, does not require the administration to prepare an environmental impact statement in connection with NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement. This decision reverses the June 30 decision by Judge Richey. The administration is gratified by this decision.
It was established law that NEPA and the EIS, or environmental impact statement, requirement applied to actions of federal agencies and not to actions of the President himself. We believed and argued strongly that the negotiation of the NAFTA and the submission of implementing legislation to Congress were the essence of presidential action and therefore the EIS requirement and NEPA did not apply.
By today's decision, the Court of Appeals erases those uncertainties. We want to recognize the Department of Justice and my General Counsel, Ira Shapiro, Justice Department led by Associate Attorney General Webb Hubbell who did such a wonderful job on this.
We recognize that the Richey decision raised in the minds of many the feeling that NAFTA could have an adverse effect on the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. NAFTA will be good for the environment.
The issue in this case never was whether this administration was committed to assuring the protection of the environment in the NAFTA. The issue was how, and we have answered that. The administration believes that NAFTA will enhance environmental protection at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout North America. Our view is shared by six environmental organizations representing 7.5 million people or about 80 percent of Americans who belong to environmental organizations.
The environmental issue -- the basis of the supplemental agrement we have negotiated. By focusing on environmental concerns and using trade as a catalyst for innovative steps to enhance environmental protection NAFTA breaks new grounds for an international trade agreement as I mentioned to you earlier.
The supplemental agreement on the environment commits each of the NAFTA countries to provide high levels of environmental protection and to continue to improve their laws in this area. In addition, it provides for the first time in Mexico access to administrative agency and to the courts for environmental laws and the enforcement of those laws and of course sets up two commissions of which most of you are aware, two commissions, to ensure that Mexico, the United States, and Canada all enforce their own laws in terms of protecting the environment.
The border clean-up plan that we are negotiating with Mexico will commit the two countries to an unprecedented clean-up effort of an area where there has been serious environmental degradation. And let me say this and say it once again for the five hundredth time. Without NAFTA we cannot, cannot clean up that border. Now, on Tuesday the World Bank will announce they are committing $3 billion -- $3 billion -- for the clean up of that border area because of the NAFTA.
The administration is committed to ensuring that Congress and the public have as much understanding as possible of the environmental issues that arise in connection with NAFTA. We want the Congress and the public to have confidence that these issues have been seriously considered and are being effectively addressed. USTR has had a review of the environmental issues involved in NAFTA and the supplemental agreement underway, along with the EPA and other agencies, which we intend to issue as soon as it is completed.
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Thank you. We at EPA welcome the court's decision today because it is good for NAFTA and NAFTA is good for the environment. Not only is NAFTA good for jobs, it is also the most environmentally sensitive trade package in history. NAFTA's environmental side agreement itself requires constant monitoring of the impact of NAFTA on the environment.
As Ambassador Kantor said, EPA worked very closely with USTR in putting together this historic side agreement. And we believe it is a very, very strong side agreement, that it will allow for environmental protection, that it will allow for cooperation between the countries, and that it will allow for the clean-up of the border to begin.
This is the first trade package ever in the history of trade to promote prudent uses of natural resources. It's the first to require the enforcement of environmental laws and the first to require cooperation. For all of these reasons we are pleased to be able to move forward. We look forward to seeing NAFTA adopted into accepting all of the responsibilities that will come to our agency in the full implementation of the NAFTA and the border clean-up. Thank you.
MR. HUBBELL: Thank you. On behalf of the Department of Justice we are pleased to be here and to be a part of having one cloud removed from the submission of NAFTA to Congress. More importantly, for the Department of Justice is that the cloud is removed and NAFTA can be submitted and hopefully approved for the many important reasons it affects the Department of Justice -- the criminal justice area, the environment, and the immigration issues that NAFTA will help. Thank you.
MR. WIRTH: I'm Tim Wirth, the Under Secretary for Global Affairs at the State Department. I wanted to register just two thoughts about the decision of the court today. First, as has been pointed out before, it in no way diminishes the administration's commitment to NAFTA, to the clean-up, and to the importance of NAFTA in the clean-up operation. Without NAFTA, our ability to move on the border and, without NAFTA, our ability to continue to enforce with Mexico our own environmental laws, will be severely diminished.
Second, it's very important to point out that this in no way diminishes the U.S. government's commitment to cleaning up and maintaining the cleanliness of the global commons. Special reference to oceans, to space and to the Antarctic, we continue to believe that it is enormously important for us as members of the international community to maintain our commitment to those major areas.
Finally, I should know -- I just came back from a speaking tour in the west and the southwest related to NAFTA. What was striking to me is how few people knew that six of the seven largest environmental groups in the country had come out in support of NAFTA. It's important to repeat that the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservation International, the Audobon Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation, have all come out in support of the NAFTA and agree with us that the NAFTA continues a very important U.S. commitment to cleaning up the environment.
MR. DALEY: Just make two comments before questions begin. One is the Associate Attorney General Hubbell, of course, will have to be discreet in his answers because this is a pending matter. And the other is the Under Secretary will have to leave shortly for a previous commitment.
Q: You say that the decision today has raised uncertainties. Now, not too long ago, many half an hour ago, these environmental agencies said that they are going to go to the Supreme Court, that they are not going to appeal because they can't, but that they are going to ask for a revision. Would that raise uncertainties again?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Well, since I'm the client and I can be freer to talk to my lawyer, Judge Hubbell. The last time Judge Hubbell and I worked together on a case, we were co-counseling; we lost. It's better to be his client than to be his co-counsel, let me put it that way.
No, it doesn't raise any uncertainties at all. I think the court's decision is quite clear. It relies on the Franklin case of, I think, the last term. I could be -- I think it was the last term. And it's quite clear that presidential authority and power is involved -- presidential decision-making. And on that basis, the court ruled that NEPA did not apply. So we are not concerned at all. And I don't believe anyone in the Congress, or, frankly, in the public will be concerned either.
Q: So from the legal point of view, if could you explain what does it imply --
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Let's get a real lawyer up here. (Laughter.)
Q: to bring it to the Supreme Court, what is the revision and how long it would take or what are the implications?
MR. HUBBELL: I'm not clear, because I didn't attend the conference. What it sounds like is they're saying they're not going to appeal it but are going to seek some kind of modification order. I really don't know. I think it's pretty clear that the court relied on prior precedent that this was a presidential action and therefore not agency action and not subject to judicial review, which is in keeping with prior precedent. And I feel very confident that if they go to the Supreme Court, there are no clouds.
Q: Ambassador Kantor, in political terms, what is this going to mean, if anything, to help you sell this, to help you get the fence-sitters off the fence, especially on the House side?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: It's momentum, number one. Number two, it makes it clear that this is the most important trade agreement in history in terms of the environment is concerned. Number three, it allows us to highlight the fact that border cleanup, access to the courts, the administrative agencies in Mexico, the commissions which enforce environmental laws in that country are all an important part of this agreement. It really raises these arguments to the front burner, politically, which is awfully important for us because we believe that is something many in Congress had been concerned about and will be satisfied as well as made confident that this agreement is in the best interest of the environment, as well as in the best interest of jobs for American workers which is, of course, critical.
Q: Secretary Browner, what would you say to the advocates of let's say a dam project or something else that's subjected to an environmental impact statement, under the NEPA that -- where the project's delayed for months, perhaps even years, by what they see as bureaucratic red tape in Washington and then the administration turns around and says we don't think one is necessary for something as big and important as the NAFTA?
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: Well, there's a significant distinction to be made here. In the case of a dam you have direct environmental impacts that need to be evaluated. You have activities, you have bulldozers, things that will be happening that need to be evaluated in terms of both their short-term and long-term environmental consequences. What you have in today's decision is a recognition that the President has certain powers in terms of how he does his job, that the United States Trade Representative needs to be able to move in a timely manner to present legislation to the Congress to see that the trade agreements are implemented and a recognition of those powers, and I think an absolute distinction. I think it's also important to realize that in the environmental side agreement, there will -- there are extensive requirements for ongoing environmental monitoring of NAFTA. We've never had something like this before, and it's going to allow us to clearly understand both the direct environmental impacts, but also the indirect environmental impacts of how we work together with Mexico in terms of improving the environment for both countries.
Q: Ambassador Kantor, could you -- since mostly what this decision did today was remove a negative -- can you talk -- can you spin it forward for us a bit and tell us in the next month or so how you -- how the President is going to try to sell this? You still are facing a real uphill battle in Congress.
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: I think the President was quite clear about that today, as I understand the statements that he made. He has already, of course, made two appearances last week. He yesterday met with Lee Iacocca, who of course spoke with many of you I guess here at the White House. He has been making phone calls to members of Congress. Over the next few weeks there will be both events as well as phone calls by the President, the Vice President, every member of this Cabinet, as continues. We're making obvious an all out effort.
It's an uphill battle, but frankly, neither side has enough votes in the House today to gain their way. I think we're in reasonably good shape in the Unite Sates Senate, but we take nothing for granted. But the politics is one thing; the substance is quite another. And the substance is clear. We cannot -- we cannot create new jobs if we don't have the NAFTA in terms of our exports to Mexico. Number two, if we don't change these unfair rules that Mexico has maintained for years and get rid of the Maquilladora program, which has drawn jobs and businesses into northern Mexico, we'll continue to disadvantage American workers. And number three, we can't be competitive with the Japanese or the Europeans if we don't create this trade preference zone. All three reasons -- plus cleaning up the environment -- and as the Associate Attorney General said, stemming the flow of immigration -- make this a must for the country. And that's why the President is so adamant in his support for it.
Q: Does the threat of a Supreme Court appeal at all jeopardize or slow down or threaten in any way the mock-up process on the Hill?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: No.
Q: Ambassador Kantor, is the $3 billion in World Bank money -- is that contingent on NAFTA? Would that not be forthcoming without NAFTA?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Well, without -- I'll let the World Bank speak to that on Tuesday. But the fact is the -- what we're negotiating right now sets up a border environmental administration and I think that's correct, and a border environmental financing fund -- a BEFF. And without those institutions, it would be very difficult, of course, to have the kind of coordination, exercise of administration and the project development that you'll need to clean up that border and to create the infrastructure to address the environmental problems that now exist there because of the failure, the failure, to have a NAFTA.
Q: But, to whom is this loan being made?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Well, that's exactly the point. With a border environmental administration, which we're negotiating now and a border environmental financing vehicle, both countries will of course be in control of that. That'll be the mechanism by which it is controlled. It'll be a -- by the way, the board will be made up of, if I'm not mistaken, 10 people --
ADMINISTRATOR BROWNER: That's right.
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Ten people. And they will be both citizens as well as public officials, federal as well as state and local officials. Is that not correct?
Q: So, it's contingent on NAFTA being implemented?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Well, you cannot -- without the leverage of NAFTA, you cannot engage in the kind of border environmental clean up and infrastructure development that we're talking about. It's not only the World Bank, it's also leveraging private funds, and it's also utilizing the funds that have already been committed at the state, local and federal level. We hope to create about $8 billion worth -- and I'm looking to Administrator Browner -- I should probably call on her. I'm just parroting what she tells me to say.
Q: If a reporter was writing a story about the loan would say the loan is going to whom?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: An agency to be created, which would probably be the border environmental administration, which we are negotiating right now.
Q: A loan in effect to both nations or --
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: The loan would go to Mexico but then it would go through -- come through the border environmental administration.
Q: Ambassador Kantor, have you made any progress in figuring out how to pay for NAFTA?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Leon Panetta's making great progress.
Q: But can you give us any details of where the hundreds of millions of dollars --
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: We're working with the Congress and Mr. Panetta has made some progress in discussions right now. We're fully confident that the money to pay for the loss tariffs in the pay-go system will be there as well as money for -- as I just explained -- the border environmental clean-up and infrastructure development as well as for the small amount of money that would be needed for reemployment for those who might be dislocated -- the very few people as a result of the NAFTA going into place.
Q: But you were saying that you hope to create $8 billion dollars of what? They didn't let you finish the sentence. Would you mind finishing your sentence? You were saying we hope to create $8 billion --
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: Eight billion dollars for border environmental clean-up and infrastructure development.
MR. DALEY: Thank you.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, earlier today, Senator Baucus suggested there was imminent action or developments from Mexico on sugar and from Secretary Espy on Canadian wheat. Can you tell us anything more?
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: No, I can't. (Laughter.)
Q: Ambassador, you haven't responded -- the Public Citizen said you still have a legal obligation under the NEPA to do an environmental impact statement, but that you do not have a legally enforceable obligation -- that was the main point of their conference, was they say that this was -- that the case was thrown out on procedural grounds --
AMBASSADOR KANTOR: I used to call that a distinction without a difference. The fact is that we're going to do our own review with EPA and we'll make that public. And we think that is a more than -- we're not required to do that by law, but we think that's an obligation in terms of full public disclosure. Thanks very much.
END3:24 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Ambassador Kantor, U.S. Trade Representative, Carol Browner, Administrator of the EPA Webb Hubbell, Associate Attorney General Tim Wirth, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, and William Daley, Special Counsellor to the President for NAFTA William Frenzel, Special Adviser to the President on NAFTA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269178