Press Briefing by Dana Perino and Jim Connaughton, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. Rowdy crowd. A little bit on today's activities, and then I'm going to turn it over to Jim Connaughton before I finish up with other questions.
I was able to speak to the President for his reaction to what was a great day at the White House, with the Pope's arrival ceremony this morning. After the Pope's departure, I just checked in with the President, and he said that he thought it was a fabulous event on a beautiful day in Washington, D.C. He thought the singing was fantastic, and that the Pope's speech was very good, inspiring, and full of hope, and that they had a very nice visit in the Oval Office. It was a private meeting, and we have issued a joint statement, so you'll have that to use.
One note on the gifts that the President provided to the Pope. He provided a lead crystal cross sculpture for his visit, and a collection of American classical and religious CDs for his birthday.
As you know, the President is going to give a speech today at 2:45 p.m. on climate change. I have brought the expert in the White House, Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, to give you a preview of that speech. We actually also just issued excerpts so that you could get a head start on that. And then he'll take some questions, and I'll come up and handle the rest.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. Today the President will give remarks on climate change. The remarks will come in three contexts. I will be flying out tonight as his personal representative to the next meeting of the leaders' representatives of the major economies. The President last year announced a new initiative to bring the 17 countries of the world that have the largest economies and produce the greatest amount of greenhouse gases into a conversation to see if we can support and accelerate the negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. So that's coming up in the President's thinking of that.
We have a legislative debate coming up in just a couple months. And so as we prepare for that, he wanted to share views in that context. And then we have a whole series of regulatory challenges we're dealing with, in the context of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. And all of these intersect with each other. So this is the genesis for the speech today.
The speech will sort of lay out some core themes that we've been emphasizing from the start. As we look at the climate change issue, we need to look at it in an integrated way. We care about economic growth and prosperity, not just here and around the world -- but also around the world -- we care about energy security. We want to set our policies in a way that makes sure that we make -- continue to make energy affordable for people, not more expensive for people, and make sure people have access to energy.
And then we want to deal with issues of climate change and related issues of environmental protection in conjunction with that. So we need to find the balance. We've been trying to strike a balance over the last many years, and as we look forward to implementation of future policy, we need to continue to strike that balance.
The speech will have -- deal with four components. So today the President will reflect on the fact that he set a national goal back in 2002 that would improve the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy by 18 percent by 2012. And to remind you, "intensity," that means our greenhouse gases per unit of economic input. Our goal is to have the economy rise and have greenhouse gases rise at a much slower rate. And we're making progress on that, and we're on track to meet the 2012 goal.
In support of the major economies process, where we've made clear we need to set new national goals, the President today will announce a new national goal. This national goal will be economy-wide, and he will call for a stopping of the growth of U.S. greenhouse gases by 2025. He will then lay out the strategy by which we are going to be able to achieve that goal.
We'll achieve that goal through a series of newly enacted mandates. These include the five new mandates in the energy bill, the bipartisan energy bill that the President signed in December. Those mandates were on vehicle fuel efficiency, on renewable fuels, on efficiency of lighting systems, on appliance efficiency, and some new mandates for the federal government's own energy use and renewable fuel use.
In addition we just reached a new international agreement, including with developing countries -- including China and India -- on the accelerated phase out of HCFCs. These are hydroflurocarbons that are refrigerants. They're also potent greenhouse gases. And so we have a new international accord to more rapidly phase those out, and we'll be putting that into U.S. law very soon.
Our states have two new mandates. Our states have renewable-power requirements. The Department of Energy has been supporting them in the development of those. And then we are working with the states to develop a national model building code that would achieve a 30 percent energy efficiency in buildings all across the country. So that's a series of mandates.
There's also a series of incentives, and the President will walk through those. The U.S. is putting tens of billions of dollars into technology research and development, and then, importantly, into the incentives to get those new technologies into the marketplace. And I'll walk through those. They're everything from nuclear to renewable power to more efficient and advanced clean coal systems.
The third piece of our strategy will be the technology partnerships with the private sector in order to, again, bring some of these to market. The President will emphasize that in meeting this new goal, in addition to these programs, we're going to need to do a little more work in the power sector. And he'll make clear that in order to achieve a stopping of emissions by 2025, we'll also need to have power-sector emissions peak within the next 10 to 15 years and then come down after that. In 2002 we made clear we need to first slow, then stop, then reverse our emissions. Well, he's charting that path in the speech today.
The second component of the speech will focus on the upcoming legislative debate and our views on the principles that should guide that debate. The President will underline that there is a right way and a wrong way by which to proceed, and that is how we're going to evaluate any proposals emerging from the Hill -- recognizing, by the way, that there are a variety of different approaches being discussed and debated on the Hill.
The wrong way is to raise taxes, to duplicate mandates, or demand sudden and drastic emission cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of hurting our economy. And the right way is to set realistic goals for reducing emissions that are consistent with the advances in technology in ways that add to our energy security and add to our economic growth. He'll underline that the wrong way is to jeopardize energy security by abandoning zero-emission coal and by abandoning the effort to find ways to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. These are domestically secure sources that provide enough energy to power cities; in the absence of them, we put ourselves at significant energy and economic security risk.
The wrong way is going to be to impose unilaterally regulatory costs that can put our businesses at a disadvantage to their competitors abroad. All that does is drive jobs overseas and also drives emissions up overseas as well, so it doesn't help solve the environmental problem either. The right way is to ensure that all of the major economies come together in a constructive manner and each economy agrees that they will have their goals included in an internationally binding agreement.
You'll also note that the wrong way is to impose punitive tariffs and start a new -- a global trade war. The right way is to actually eliminate the tariffs on clean-energy technologies, and double or triple the amount of investment that could occur if we did that.
The third component of his speech will be focusing on our technology incentives. Right now we have a different incentive for every kind of technology. And if you line them all up and you kind of ask yourself, well, what do they deliver, you find out they deliver things in a sort of disproportionate manner. So he will call for a consolidation and an expansion of our technology incentive programs, and will give some features of what that kind of an approach should look like.
We will not have a specific proposal, but, again, these will be the principles. One, it should be technology-neutral. The government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. Two, it should be carbon-weighted, so those energy sources that have the lowest emissions receive more of an incentive against those technologies that have higher emissions. And then finally it should be long lasting. The incentives should be predictable to support the kind of large-scale investments that are going to be necessary to meet the goal that the President outlined.
With all of that in mind, the President will then turn to his reflections on what we're seeking from the major economies process. We're hopeful to reach agreement on a long-term global goal for reducing emissions; that's a goal we would all share. We are hopeful that the leaders of the major economies will be willing to make a commitment in principle that the national goals that they set will be reflected in a new agreement.
And there are things we can do right away as major economies. We can agree to immediately eliminate tariffs. It's just a question of political will. We don't have to negotiate a new U.N. treaty to do that. We can agree to do that among our countries by their leaders, and get that done by the end of this year.
And we can also work together to advance work in key sectors. If we can get our power generation sectors internationally together, they can find ways to become more efficient, and to use the newest technology and do it faster. If we get our renewable-fuel sectors into a coherent conversation, we can accelerate the availability of lower-carbon renewable fuels. And then we'll work on issues such as deforestation and some larger sectors, like aluminum and steel that use a lot of energy -- so how can we find ways to produce those commodities with much lower energy.
So that's the outline of what we'll be talking about today. It's a lot of stuff I know that I gave you, but all of that adds up to this intermediate strategy that we got that we'll be implementing domestically and will also be offering internationally.
So, happy to take your questions.
Q: You say he's offering new national goals. How much influence do you think he's going to have on this debate, come stepping forward in the eighth year of his presidency, rather than a lot sooner?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: That question actually answers itself in the influence the President has already had. He has brought together internationally the 17 largest economies, with leader commitments to meet this summer to discuss for the first time at that level where we're going to go next with an international treaty. He led the way with a State of the Union announcement two years ago on advanced biofuels that led to the State of the Union announcement last year for the most ambitious mandates on renewable fuels of any country in the world. And in the course of less than a year, we found ourselves with a bipartisan energy bill that nobody thought was possible, that had five major new mandates, to back up the incentive programs in the 2005 energy bill that the President led on. The President led the way on this new international agreement to phase out HCFCs, which will reduce emissions by as much or more than the Kyoto Protocol -- and that's an agreement that had China and India on it.
So we are leading -- we are leading, and we have the demonstrated results of that leadership, and as a result the leaders are coming together to see how we can take this conversation further.
Q: This wasn't possible in 2001?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It was not possible in 2001 because we had to do the groundwork -- these things take a lot of effort and time to plan for, to prepare, to sell people on, to work out the economics, to work out the energy security implications, to build the political consensus. You don't do that overnight. This is the careful work of the strategy the President laid out in 2002 that is now bearing fruit in a new level of international engagement.
We have a lot to offer to this discussion in terms of leadership, and by the way we have a lot to offer in laying a solid foundation for the President's successor, whoever that may be.
Q: You have to have, to meet some kind of global goal as you're talking about, to have 17 countries on the same page -- obviously you need some sort of political influence. And you're talking about a President in the last seven, eight, nine, ten months of his presidency. So obviously the other countries are going to not be dealing with the President as if he had eight years left; he's got eight months left. So doesn't that complicate pulling this off?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, all of the leaders came together last year and agreed that the urgency of the climate issue requires us to come together and reach agreement on a new international approach by the end of next year. If you back up that calendar, six months before the end of next year is when all the decisions are made in the U.N. process, which means it's the work we do this year that's going to make a difference to an agreement by the end of next year.
The sign of the President's role and leadership in this is the fact that he has the commitment of the world leaders to engage on this. This has not happened before. And a sign of that is that there are people at my level, who typically do not meet on these issues, who have now met twice, once in Washington, once in Hawaii, and now tomorrow for the third time in France, to pull together the strategy for how to make success next year possible.
So we're already exercising the leverage.
Q: But I'm saying a country -- I'm asking you how you will deal with the dynamic, where a country looks at what the United States is offering and says, you know, why don't you just wait a year, it will change?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually, it's the inverse of what you're describing. The countries are all looking to the strategies that the U.S. --
Q: -- the next administration will have the same outlook, the same -- I'm not sure how that's the inverse of what I'm saying.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: I'll explain it to you. The countries around the world are looking to what is the U.S. doing and how are they setting their goals and how are they achieving their goals: What kinds of technologies are we advancing and what's our success in accomplishing that?
Well, that foundation is in the hands of this presidency. The President that follows, by the way, whether it's Senator McCain or Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, each one of them voted for these new mandates that just occurred in December -- they were right with that set of proposals. I do not know their individual votes, but I know that each of them is strongly supportive of the major new technology incentive programs that the President not only has proposed, but that we now have in law and we now have increasing budgets for. We've gone from about $1.7 billion in technology R&D to over $4 billion annually in technology R&D. It's this President that got a new loan guarantee program in place that went from zero to $42 billion available this year to support the large-scale investment in low-carbon energy plans.
So we have not just a solid foundation, we have a huge foundation upon which the next President is going to be able to move forward.
Q: There is already criticism coming out from overseas and Capitol Hill and the environmental groups that this plan does not do enough. So basically -- are you just basically, this is a start of a negotiation? Or is this the final plan that the President is putting on the table?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The centerpiece of the President's vision and the President's action is setting realistic goals. The President is not focused on fancy rhetoric that doesn't lead to results. And so when you look at what the President has not only proposed but what has now been achieved, we have a renewable-fuel mandate that is 50 percent more aggressive than Europe's renewable-fuel mandate. Okay? And so they don't even come close. And we are second only to Brazil in terms of the percentage of our ambition on renewable fuels. We have done the work to show how we can do that.
But there are also a number of proposals around the world for very, very aggressive targets, but nobody can explain to you how you get from here to there. If you don't have the technologies to meet the target, the target is no good. And so what we've tried to do is pursue a bottom-up approach -- and I just challenge anyone, I challenge any critic to show us, in any individual sector -- whether it's fuels or power generation -- show us a path that gets us further and faster than what the President has proposed in a way that doesn't harm our consumers, in a way that doesn't move our jobs overseas and increase emissions over there, in a way that doesn't create global trade wars. That's why the President has laid down these principles. We're happy to engage the debate. What we have on the table is aggressive and it's real.
Q: One more question. What's the current U.S. rate of greenhouse gas emissions growth?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The rate of growth? This year -- let's see, I don't have the specific number, rate of growth. So let me give you a few statistics that relate to that. Between 2001 and 2006, our economy grew by 13 percent and our emissions grew by 2 percent. So we had a big difference between economic growth.
An EPA report that just came out yesterday showed that in 2007 we had an absolute reduction of emissions of I think -- was it 2006? Was it 2006 or 2007? 2006. We had an absolute reduction of greenhouse gases of 1.1 percent. To put that in terms, that was a 4.5 percent improvement in intensity. The average intensity historically is less than 2 percent. So we had a really big year in 2006. I don't think we'll repeat that this year, because we had a very cold winter, but we're still on track to meeting the President's goal. So not only are his goals realistic, but they're also achievable.
Q: Is industry more fearful of something more onerous next year than this year?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thank you for asking that question. One of the biggest challenges we face -- and I actually did not get into specifics in my opening, so thank you -- is we have a big regulatory problem coming up. We have some litigants and we have some courts that are interpreting into the Clean Air Act and interpreting into some of the other statutes new carbon regulatory authority. Well, these statutes are 30 years old and they were never designed to deal with carbon dioxide emissions. It is a very different set of public policy issues.
And so not just industry, but community leaders and others are facing the prospect of a regulatory system that was designed to deal with traditional pollutants in low concentrations for something like carbon dioxide, which doesn't have direct effects; it builds up in the atmosphere and it's released in big volumes. And so we have a regulatory train wreck coming, and I think not just -- again, it's not just industry, it's consumers that have reason to be concerned, it's workers and employers who have reason to be concerned because the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA just testified in the Congress a couple days ago, making clear that if these interpretations hold, you're talking about new regulations on things like schools and hospitals, shopping malls. We've never reached -- you know, had federal regulation reach into those activities.
So the President will make clear that these kinds of choices that reach -- have such far-reaching implications for our economy -- including threatening dramatic increases in energy prices -- is something that the Congress should debate and discuss.
Q: Could I follow up? Does industry fear something more onerous from the current crop of presidential candidates than from this President, and that's why we're coming out with them now?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: What I have found, if you look at what's occurred, we had -- there's always industry concern about regulation, there's always industry interest and incentives. That's the way it is, environmental policy; it's the way it's always been.
I think what is of highest concern, and on which industry is playing a very constructive role, is how to get our technologies moving at the rate we need to make real progress, and do it in a way where we can afford to do it.
And so the word "fear" isn't the right word. The word is they want something done right if we're going to do it, and they don't want it left to the hands of unelected regulators and unelected judges to decide how it should be done. It's really something that the elected representatives should figure out.
Q: You talked about the power sector, we need to do a little more work in the power sector, and that we'll have to have power-sector emissions peak in the next 10 to 15 years. What specifically is the President proposing with respect to the power sector?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, as indicated, we have renewable-power mandates in a little bit more than half of our states. We have some power-sector technology programs that deal with advanced coal, deal with nuclear, deal with large-scale renewables. But something the President will also emphasize is we have huge regulatory and political obstacles to scaling up the low-emission technologies we need.
So, for example, if I want to build a gigawatt-scale renewable wind farm -- you're talking about thousands of turbines -- that's going to be away from urban centers. But I've got to find a way to get that power reliably to the city. Well, we have a really tough time in America building the transmission lines that make that possible. So we can imagine a lot of wind power, but if we can't get it to where it's needed, it won't work.
Nuclear energy is another good example. There are many who are strong, strong advocates of aggressive action on climate change, but will do everything in their power to block the construction of a new nuclear power plant. Well, that's just nutty.
So that's -- he'll focus on those kinds of things. We will not be laying out a specific additional proposal today. We think that's something that really should be discussed among all of the people who are interested in a rational approach to dealing with power-sector emissions.
Q: If I can just follow up. We keep hearing circulating that the administration has under discussion possibly some kind of cap and trade program related to the power sector specifically. Is that under consideration at the White House? Is that something you intend to propose this week or in the future?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: There are dozens of ideas out there. We've given a good look at all of them, and we're not commenting on any specific one. We want to see -- we want to be part of the debate in developing, if you will, bottom-up the approach that makes the most sense. And that's going to require a good, constructive discussion with Congress, and, as importantly, a good, constructive discussion with representatives of the people who are going to bear those costs. And so we're not going to prejudge any outcome.
Q: You've talked about some mandates that you're supportive of that affect the level of carbon emissions, but I'm wondering, would the President consider a mandate that limited the overall output of carbon into the atmosphere?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The President has already backed programs that will limit the carbon that's coming into the atmosphere from each of these individual sectors.
Q: But overall, would he support, as Democrats do, an overall limit on carbon emissions in the economy?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The President has supported these individual policies that lead to specific results that we know are going to occur. We do not have a proposal and we have not seen a proposal on an overall approach that makes any sense. In fact, the ones we've seen are disastrous. They would be disastrous for the economy, and they would also be disastrous for the communities that would have to bear a burden that will not produce the result we seek.
Also, we have an issue of we have mandates in most of the areas where we need them. And so as people contemplate the idea of a one-size-fits-all mandate, we've got -- you don't put mandates on mandates. And that's an issue that's also going to need to be discussed as we go forward.
Q: But I don't hear you completely ruling out a mandate that you may think is not so deleterious to the economy that would generally limit carbon emissions. Is that correct? You wouldn't rule that out?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: As I've indicated, we have, as a result of bipartisan agreement at the federal level, as a result of bipartisan outcomes at the state level, not just mandatory programs but technology incentives in the places where we need them. So the question as we go forward in meeting the President's new goal is, what are the strategies that will best assure that we will meet that goal? And again, there's a number of ways to do that. We don't want to prejudge them.
Q: It's just -- I apologize, one last one -- he has a goal for 2000 -- for a specific year, I forgot the year. Why not make that a mandatory goal? It's obviously something that he thinks is achievable without destroying the economy. Why not just make it mandatory, not just a goal?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: When you set an overarching goal, what you're doing is you're setting the outcome that's the outcome of the -- is the result of a whole series of actions -- and by the way, not just actions by the government. When we set the original goal of 18 percent improvement of intensity, the President's biggest focus was on the power and innovation of the private sector to start delivering products in the marketplace that are going to help us address this problem.
You are in a room today that has flat-screen -- has flat-panel light-emitting diode lighting. There was no regulation that put that into this room. We decided to do it because it made good horse sense. You all work off flat-panel monitors that have a fraction of the energy use. So the private sector is also powering ahead here. And too much of our focus often is on, it's only the government that's going to solve this. We have to empower the private sector to do so, as well.
MS. PERINO: Jim, you have time for two more.
Q: If a carbon cap is still conceivably on the table, then what would it take for that to be palatable for the White House?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: As I indicated, the President is going to lay out some principles today that frame our thinking going forward with respect to any policy, any set of strategies, whether they're domestic or international. These are fundamental principles to assure economic growth, to assure energy security, and to assure we can advance the technologies necessary to solve the solution. So we'll be calibrating all of our responses off of those principles. We invite you to take a look at the principles and proposals you see, and you can decide for yourself whether it meets them or not.
Q: A couple of areas. One involves the regulatory train wreck that you see coming. I'm asking two questions about that. Do you see a problem that older acts are going to be broadened to encompass things that were not envisioned -- carbon caps, for example -- under the Clear Air Act? Also, are you suggesting that needs, current needs trump some of these older acts like the Endangered Species Act, which I sense could get in the way of transmission lines? Is that what you're saying?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: When we look at the new interpretation of the Clean Air Act, what that would do is it would -- it could automatically trigger a whole suite of existing regulations that were never designed for carbon dioxide emissions. And when I say automatic, I mean automatic. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have to write new rules and have them go through a court process. The rules already exist; they just apply it to CO2.
And so all of sudden, all around the country, schools, hospitals, large apartment buildings who have never had to face this kind of regulation before will have to be getting permits -- and this is not just for new buildings. This is if you just want to change an old building. They'll have to go through a permit process and then go through an extensive review -- let's say for example a school was trying to change a couple classrooms. This might trigger them having to completely redo their heating and ventilation system for the entire school. Well, maybe they don't have the money for that. That's the kind of effect that's going to come from this, and we need to address -- we can't just let that happen without elected officials deciding that's the way they want it done.
Q: That's one kind of thing, but another kind of thing seems to be a kind of priority sense, when you're saying regulatory things like I guess the Endangered Species Act could constrain our ability to build transmission lines. That's a priority thing. Isn't that something that should be taken to voters?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: There is no question -- and the President will emphasize this theme today -- we need accountable public officials, who are elected, taking into account the views of their constituencies about their electricity needs, about maintaining the affordability of electricity, and about making the decisions that make a clean energy future possible. What we have right now is a tremendous clash between those who want climate change outcomes but don't want to make the tough political choices to achieve them. So you have the worst of both worlds: You have a huge economic hit and you don't get the environmental improvement. Now that's no way to make good public policy.
Q: And one other thing, if I could. We're already having the beginnings of a food crisis here, and we're talking about alternative energy sources that impact that. Do you see those lines crossing within the 2025 goal set by the President? Do you see a time when we simply cannot afford to continue to use as much ethanol as we do now -- corn-based ethanol -- because of the constraints on the food supply?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We recognize this is an issue -- actually, in the State of the Union a year ago, when the President made clear that the answer on biofuels is to leap ahead to biofuel sources that don't compete with food. You're talking about cellulosic ethanol that comes from grasses or agricultural waste.
Q: But the technology isn't there.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It's not there. So on the way, we're building out the infrastructure based on ethanol. But everybody knows that there's a limit to how much corn ethanol is going to find its way into fuel anyway. And so we have to jump ahead to second generation.
I also just want to underline, while -- the issue of ethanol as a contributor to food prices is a new one, and so it's receiving a lot of attention, but in terms of the overall set of issues that are leading to rise of food prices, ethanol is a small factor. And so we need to be careful because if we put all of the public debate about the contribution of ethanol to food prices, we're actually losing the 80 to 90 percent of the real reasons why this is occurring, and we're going to miss focusing on where we're going to be able to address this issue.
Q: But it's a politically explosive part of the problem.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It is, and it creates the dissonance that -- people who want action on climate change want renewable fuels that are low on carbon; we've got to find a way to produce that. The answer is not to go back to continued reliance on foreign sources of oil for our energy security. We have to move ahead, not move backwards. Thank you all very much.
Q: Will the administration now urge other G8 countries to adopt the so-called mid-term 2025 framework? And can you talk about how today's specific announcement fits into the post-Kyoto Protocol?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thank you. A key component of this major economies discussion is that each of the major economies will commit to a new national mid-term goal -- or goals; countries may have a series of them. The President has stated one economy-wide goal, and then supporting goals to achieve that. It's important that we do that because then we're sending the signal of the level of ambition we collectively will be able to achieve; we call that the bottom-up approach. But it is important that each country do that. And for this to work, it's important that each country have that reflected in an internationally binding agreement. So that's what we're setting the stage for in this major economies discussion.
There's a lot of resistance to that. This requires countries to make choices. I would just observe, Europe as a union has stated a mid-term goal. They are working on how they're going to implement that in each member state. Canada has stated a mid-term goal. The United States has now stated a mid-term goal. We are the only three that have done that so far. But we know that all of the other major economies are working on it. And so we're giving our own signal about how we're structuring what we're going to do, and hopefully they'll reflect off of that and make appropriate decisions for their economies as well. Thank you all very much.
MS. PERINO: Thank you, Jim. Jim has a plane to catch for the meeting in Paris. So thank you.
Other issues? I think we exhausted --
Q: In the meeting with the Pope today, was there a discussion of -- a specific discussion of the Iraq war?
MS. PERINO: As I told you, it was a private one-on-one meeting that the President had. I did talk to the President about that. You'll have the joint statement in which this is reflected. The President said he brought it up, and in particular they spoke about the protection of Christians in Iraq; that is a concern that they both share. Beyond that, I'm not able to provide more detail.
Q: Wait a minute, just to clarify, he brought it up, the President brought it up?
MS. PERINO: The President brought it up.
Q: But just in the context of the protection of the Christians in Iraq, or a broader discussion of the war? Did you get any impression --
MS. PERINO: The impression that I took was that it was largely if not all about the plight of Christians in Iraq. But again, it was a private meeting and I'm reluctant to offer -- to get any more detail for you because they had an understanding it would be private.
Q: It was just the two of them, and there were no --
MS. PERINO: Correct. It was a one-on-one meeting in the Oval.
Q: No Hadley, no --
MS. PERINO: No Hadley, no me, no -- nobody.
Q: Keeping that reluctance in mind, there's a reference to religious freedom in there. Did they specifically discuss the situation in China? And within that, did they discuss Tibet?
MS. PERINO: I couldn't tell you specifically, I don't know. I asked him specifically about Iraq, but not China.
Q: And the reference to confronting terrorism while respecting the right --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I missed --
Q: -- the discussion of confronting terrorism with respect -- while respecting the rights of every human person. Is there a -- what is that a reference to? The Pope in the past has been pretty critical of what he's denounced as torture. Was there a discussion specifically on interrogation practices?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q: Dana, what's the mood of the President today? He is a man of faith and he quotes scripture a lot, and he's a member of the United Methodist faith. And we have the head of the Catholic religion. What is his mood today as he's meeting with the Pope?
MS. PERINO: The way -- I would say that in the lead-up to this event today, that there was a lot of anticipation and obviously a lot of planning that went into it, as you saw from the ceremony. And we had the largest -- for this administration the largest number of people out on the South Lawn. And I think the President was personally moved that the Pope decided to spend his birthday in America, and he was pleased to provide him a cake afterwards.
That's one thing I could have mentioned, that following the ceremony, after the President and Mrs. Bush and the Pope went up to the balcony, then they went into the Cross Hall there, where the delegations were able to -- we were able to meet Pope Benedict, and his delegation was able to meet the President and Mrs. Bush. And then we presented him with several tiers of a birthday cake, and it was a special moment before the President and the Pope walked together alone to the Oval Office.
Q: But did they, by any chance -- we know that the President has his own people that he talks to about his religion. Did they talk at all, do you know, about religion, as they were walking, as they were in the Oval Office?
MS. PERINO: April, I don't know. It was private.
Q: Quote scripture to one another?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. It was private. But I'll just -- I think I'll just leave it at that, because I just -- I don't know.
MS. PERINO: Anybody else? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: It is hot in here. (Laughter.) Okay, I'm going to go to Elaine since she hasn't had one at all.
Q: Well, can I just go back to -- I know Jim is not here, but just on sort of the timing of the climate change speech, the announcement today, was there any thought that perhaps the message on that might be overshadowed on such a day as this?
MS. PERINO: We worked hard to figure out a day that we could do it, and the policy process was -- it's a complex issue and one that we were working on for quite a while. And we were not ready to go, but we knew we needed to get it done before the meeting tomorrow in Paris, in which Dan and Jim will be there. But the President wanted to make this announcement before they went to this major economies meeting so that we could continue to show the leadership and encourage other countries that, when they're ready, to put forward their national goal.
Q: And can I just clarify something that Jim said? So he was essentially saying, if I understood him correctly, that the practical effect in the administration's eyes of the President setting this national goal today, even though he does have less than a year in office, is to basically provide a place for the next President to kind of take over, the thinking being, what we've heard on the campaign trail is that the next President will be willing to sort of pick up where this President leaves off. Is that what the administration believes will happen here?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think, Elaine, just look -- we're mindful of the clock. But look back to May -- last May, 2007, when the President first announced that he would start this post-Kyoto conversation. And he said, I will lead this effort, and I will lead it in a way that keeps China and India at the table, which is critical for having the political consensus, for everyone to have the will to actually move forward and get this done. Otherwise it is going to fall apart.
We said at that time, and then in September 2007, that we want every country to agree to establish intermediate and then a long-term goal, and then that the plans of those goals would not be finalized until the end of 2009. So we had already said last May and then in September that we knew that this was going to be a process that would take a while, but it is a post-2012 conversation. And so, yes, the next President is going to have to deal with this. But so is the Congress. I mean, this is just something that the world is going to have to deal with for quite a while to come.
Q: Again, a non-binding goal -- I mean, some people might look at that --
MS. PERINO: You need to look back at the September 2007 statement because through the major economies meeting process, in order to keep this process on track, and by having China and India at the table, that's how you do that. We will be able to collectively agree on a goal that all of us will be held accountable by under the United Nations framework.
Q: Dana, this is the sixth, by my count, state visit of the President's administration.
MS. PERINO: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: And there seems to be not a lot -- when the Queen was invited, there was a big deal about how it's the fifth state visit. You seem to be downplaying the fact that this is an official state visit. Do you know of any other state visit in U.S. history in which the guest of honor was not invited to the state dinner, or was not attending the state dinner? I understand he was invited. I don't want to --
MS. PERINO: Of course he was invited.
Q: Of course he was invited.
MS. PERINO: I don't think that we -- given the pomp and circumstance of this event, I don't think we have been downplaying the Pope's arrival, and him being here.
Q: I'm not suggesting you're downplaying the Pope's arrival.
MS. PERINO: But I don't know of anything -- I don't know of any reason that anybody would be downplaying the fact that we're having this dinner tonight. We're very happy to have the Catholic leaders here in town. I don't understand your question.
Q: There hasn't seemed to be, from the podium there, a lot of talk about this being a state visit. But it is a state visit.
MS. PERINO: It is a state visit. (Laughter.)
Q: And do you know of any other state visit in which the guest of honor did not attend the dinner, the state dinner?
MS. PERINO: No, I do not know that. But you understand the -- what we have said is that we knew we wanted to give this dinner. The Pope had a schedule that he was already planning to have, and the President said that he would like to have the Catholic leaders that came to Washington, D.C., to come to the arrival ceremony today, amongst others, here at the dinner, and they're very happy to have this event tonight.
Q: Well, I mean, it's more complicated than that. You didn't have to have a state visit. I mean, I recognize the President wants to honor the Pope.
MS. PERINO: Okay, then you've stumped me, Wendell; you win. I don't know what -- (laughter) -- the point, and I'm not trying to make a joke. I really don't understand your concern. We've had a fantastic ceremony and arrival of the Pope. The President went out to Andrews. And if you're just specifically focusing on --
Q: All Presidents greet the Pope on their arrival in this country. All Presidents do that, wherever they arrive. This one happened to arrive at Andrews, so --
MS. PERINO: And so what is your point, Wendell?
Q: I'm wondering why it was a state visit when you couldn't satisfy all the requirements, if you will, of a normal state visit?
MS. PERINO: I think that you are -- it's like angels dancing on the head of a pin. I don't think that this matters.
Q: What is the administration's position on a one-week extension of basic farm law? Can you tell us a little more about it?
MS. PERINO: I know that they are working on that. The President has said that they would like to see them make a lot of progress. Well, I think we'll have to wait and see, because I know that they're working on it right now. But the President has said --
Q: Okay, so no veto -- no veto --
MS. PERINO: No, but I think the President thinks that if they don't make significant progress, that they should go ahead and sign -- pass an extension that would last for a year or longer.
Q: So he won't veto a one-week extension?
MS. PERINO: No, I haven't heard that, no. I think -- but let me caution you, we haven't seen what the extension would be; the devil is in the details sometimes. But if it's an extension of a current law, I think that we would have to take a look at that, but what the President has said is, if they don't make significant progress, then we're going to have to ask them to try to pass an extension that lasts for a year or longer.
Q: Back on the papal -- the joint statement here, what is meant by this "coordinated policy regarding immigration"? Is the administration and the Holy See going to work together on some kind of a policy here? What are they talking about?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to have to get back to you. I don't know specifically what that was, and I don't know what they spoke about, so let me see if I can get back to you.*
Q: Did they give any orders, if you will, to their people to follow up on anything that was discussed here in terms of working together?
MS. PERINO: Well, the meeting just happened. The meeting just happened. It was a private meeting. I don't know, but I'll try to get back to you, because it just happened.
MS. PERINO: Jennifer.
Q: On the climate speech. The President's goal of stopping the greenhouse gases by 2025 -- is he talking about greenhouse gas intensity or the actual emissions? Because there's -- I mean, scientists --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to have to go back to Jim and figure that out. There's different measurements and it's complex. So I'll get back to you.**
Q: Does today's speech on the climate change have anything to do with Gordon Brown's visit tomorrow? And can you give us any ideas of what the top issues are going to be for their meeting tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: As I said, the driving force of the decision to give the speech today was the major economies meeting that is taking place tomorrow and Friday in Paris, which was already set long before we knew that Gordon Brown would be here tomorrow.
Q: And what are the major things on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting?
MS. PERINO: Sure. Obviously the President and Gordon Brown have established a good relationship. They speak often -- often by secure video teleconference. They have a range of issues that they work together on, including counterterrorism, non-proliferation, the economy, global economy, working together to combat pandemics and hunger and disease, especially in Africa. And so I think they'll talk about that.
In addition to that, Gordon Brown had today an opinion, an editorial that he had in The Wall Street Journal, that he suggested some proposals on which we could work together in the future to deepen and strengthen economic ties. We welcome all of those proposals -- some of these aspects in terms of education exchanges and technology exchanges. And he also mentions working together on technology issues regarding climate change. So all of those are issues that they will talk about. His proposals are one that we welcome, and they'll have a meeting tomorrow followed by a press avail.
Q: You didn't mention Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I don't -- I'm sorry, I don't -- I'm not trying to leave out anything of importance. Of course they're going to talk about Iraq. I'm sure they'll talk about Middle East peace. They'll probably talk about North Korea and Iran and -- I'm probably missing one, and you'll catch me up on it. But I don't mean to exclude anything that they'll talk about. We've talked with the United Kingdom on a variety of issues, almost on a daily basis. So they'll have many issues to talk about, but we'll let them have the meeting and then talk about it afterwards.
Q: Dana, back on what Wendell asked -- are there White House guidelines that dictate that if you do have a state visit, it has to be all or nothing?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'm not a protocol officer, but we'll try to get you the answer. I'll attach it to the end of the briefing.***
Q: But it is kind of odd that you have this pomp and circumstance and spend money for a lavish dinner and the guest of honor is not there.
MS. PERINO: April, the President and Mrs. Bush are thrilled to have the Catholic leaders here, and they are thrilled to provide the dinner. But the Pope had a prearranged schedule, in order to have an event on his own; we do not blink an eye over that. We think that the dinner will be one in which people can share in the glory of this day, and they're happy to have everybody here tonight.
Q: Dana --
Q: Dana, did the Pope eat his cake? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Not there in the moment, but maybe they gave him some later.
Q: What kind was it?
Q: Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'll find out the specifics.**** It was cream-colored on the outside. I was able -- I was very lucky I got to have a little bite of it, but I do not want to do the pastry chefs a disservice by describing it incorrectly. (Laughter.)
Q: Was it chocolate?
Q: -- happy birthday, Holy Father, or --
MS. PERINO: It was a little bit more tasteful than that. (Laughter.)
Q: Dana --
MS. PERINO: Yes, Goyal.
Q: Thank you. Before my question on energy, I just want to say, in my 30 years at the White House I have never seen anything like this.
MS. PERINO: You're going to clear the room, Goyal.
Q: My question is, as far as -- on energy, reaching agreement with India (inaudible. Can you say a little bit more what kind of agreement you have reached with India, because as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned it has not --
MS. PERINO: We're still working on it. We're still working on it and very committed to it.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT
* Refers to an overall policy that incorporates the rule of law and border security with our traditions of welcoming immigrants and the need for them to be treated humanely.
** The national, economy wide goal the President announced today is to stop the absolute growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 2025.
*** According to protocol and past practice, the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to the White House today is described as a "Visit." This is consistent with the description used during the last papal visit to the White House in 1979. A "State Dinner" would only correspond to a "State Visit".
**** Lemon pound cake with lemon curd filling and vanilla fondant frosting.
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino and Jim Connaughton, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277134