Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ottawa, Canada
9:24 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. Welcome aboard Air Force One. Obviously the President has a set of important meetings today in Ottawa, Canada, where he'll be meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau and President Peña Nieto as part of the North American Leaders' Summit.
A critical part of the announcements that are being made today relate to the intensive cooperation among the United States, Canada and Mexico on a range of energy and climate issues. So we're going to be joined this morning by Brian Deese, who's the President's senior advisor and is the official at the White House who's responsible for coordinating our efforts on these energy and climate issues.
So I'm going to give Brian the opportunity to speak at the beginning about the significance of the agreements that are announced -- or will be announced later today. And for any questions you have about those issues, Brian can take them at the top. I know there's other pressing news of the day, but we'll get to that after Brian is done.
So, Brian, you want to take it from there?
MR. DEESE: Great. Thanks, Josh.
I'll just go briefly through the top lines of what the three leaders will be announcing today, and then just a couple thoughts about their significance, and then I'm happy to take your questions on that.
So, today, the three leaders will be releasing a North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership. This is a first-of-a-kind effort to develop a continent-wide strategy to be more ambitious about harnessing the economic opportunities and the national security and economic imperative to address climate change.
There's basically three major components to this partnership. The first is working together to set ambitious goals. That is most notably by the new goal to have 50 percent of electricity generated through clean sources by 2025 continent-wide. And that's a significant increase from where we are today where about 37 percent of our energy is generated from clean sources. It requires all three countries to push and maintain high ambition around encouraging clean energy, but it's something that we believe we can achieve together.
We're also collectively committing to achieve significant reductions in methane emissions, principally from the oil and gas sector. All three countries today will affirm a commitment to reduce methane emissions 40 to 45 percent by 2025. That's a commitment that previously the United States and Canada have made. Today, Mexico is joining that, as well. Likewise, an ambitious commitment but one that would have significant economic and climate benefits.
The second big piece of this partnership is around better aligning our policies to encourage our countries to work more closely together. And you see that across a range of issues. We're committing to specific goals on aligning energy efficiency standards, which will allow our businesses to more effectively market low-energy-use goods -- everything from appliances to air conditioners. We are committing to greater grid integration and cooperation on extending transmission lines, and identify a potential for 5,000 megawatts of new cross-border transmission lines between the U.S. and Canada, and between Mexico and the United States that will make it easier for our countries to both develop renewable energy but then also transmit that energy across borders.
And, importantly, we're announcing a harmonization of our efforts to set fuel economy standards, both for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. This is both important for climate reasons for reducing emissions from vehicles, but also for giving our businesses more certainty about the ability to market their goods with harmonized standards across the North American region.
The third big area of cooperation that's reflected in this partnership is in the international arena. The United States, Canada and Mexico all played an important role in getting to the Paris climate agreement last December. And in this partnership, we send a strong signal that our three countries will work to increase the ambition in the international climate space.
And just a couple of very specific things: All three countries are committing to formally join the Paris agreement this year, in 2016. All three countries are committing to develop a long-term de-carbonization strategy that was called for in the Paris agreement this year. All three countries are committing to support an effort to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025 and to promote that in the G20. All three countries are supporting an ambitious HFC amendment this year to phase down the harmful HFC pollutants. And all three countries are committing to reach an agreement to constrain emissions from the aircraft industry later this year through the ICAO process.
So you see in the international space a harmonization, a commitment by our three countries to work together.
So I think the upshot of all of this is a very significant and historic partnership on climate and clean energy issues. And I'd just make two comments about the significance. The first is, at the end of the day, the most compelling rationale to promote this agenda is because it will deliver tangible economic benefits to all of our countries.
We are releasing -- the White House is releasing a new analysis today from the Council of Economic Advisers that shows in concrete terms the expansion in clean energy jobs that will come from hitting the ambitious 50 percent clean energy goal. They project an additional 400,000 jobs supported in the United States if we hit that goal. And those are jobs not just in directly supporting renewable energy deployment -- although those jobs are growing quite quickly in the United States -- but also from things like infrastructure to build transmission lines; in the oil and gas sector -- to repair the leaks in pipelines associated with reducing methane emissions. Jobs all across the country in different industries. And ultimately, that is an important and powerful argument for why we need to act, and one that will be focusing on what the President will highlight in his speech to Parliament.
I think the second issue here is just this is another example of the President's approach to addressing climate change. As many of you know, he has made this a top priority of his foreign policy and his domestic policy for several years. And his approach over the course of the last several years leading into Paris has been one of deliberate but concerted effort to work with allies, to work with different countries to try to bring along and encourage greater ambition in this space.
This partnership that's announced today between Canada and Mexico is the result of several years of work and leadership by the President, working closely with the Mexican government over the last couple of years, including on Mexico's submission to the Paris agreement last year. And there's been an alignment between the President and President Peña Nieto about the need to be more ambitious on climate issues. It also reflects the fact that when Prime Minister Trudeau was elected, the first substantive piece of business that he and the President focused on was the question of how our two countries could be more ambitious and more aligned on the issue of climate and clean energy.
We have worked hard over the last six months to try to make good on that alignment between the two leaders. And I think the announcement today reflects an important step forward and an important demonstration of the President's approach to elevating the urgency of the climate issue in the international space.
So with that, I would pause and see if you got any questions on this, or we can turn it back to Josh.
Q: What amount of help will you need from Congress in order to reach the 50 percent target? Will you need their cooperation?
MR. DEEESE: So if you look at what is happening in the U.S. in the electricity industry and electricity sector, what you see is an increasingly rapid move toward cleaner sources of energy. We are going to need a consistent and ambitious policy framework to try to send the long-term market signal that those types of moves are in companies' economic interest. The good news is that we already have in place very strong policy tools to that effect.
Speaking of Congress, the Congress passed -- and the President signed into the law at the end of last year -- a multiyear extension of tax credits for wind and solar generation. Those tax credits go into the early 2020s and will provide a very strong incentive to continue the expansion of those sources of energy over the next several years. Likewise, the President's Clean Power Plan will provide an incentive over the longer term, because the period of implementation for the Clean Power Plan is 2022 to 2030.
So with those two tools in place, we have a strong set of market signals for the domestic industry. And we're going to continue to look for ways to reinforce that. And some of the things that are part of this partnership, including harmonizing energy efficiency standards and working on aligning vehicle standards are ways to do that. We, in the next several weeks, will be finalizing our heavy-duty vehicle regulations, for example, which is another way where we can do our part to try to get toward that ambitious goal.
So Congress has a role to play. On the renewable tax credits, they played an important role and the President signed those into law. But we're confident that we have the tools that we need to get there if we keep a focus on this and keep putting a priority on achieving that goal.
Q: Brian, how worried is the President that most of his climate legacy might be undone within a few months if Donald Trump succeeds him in the White House?
MR. DEESE: Look, I think that one of the things that -- one of the messages that came out of Paris and one of the things that you're seeing in the market, in the market in the United States, is that this move to clean energy, the momentum is only increasing, and that momentum is momentum in the market. It's being driven by the cost of technology and the dramatic reduction in costs of everything from solar and wind power to battery storage.
Those trends are going to continue, and in fact, they're only going to accelerate. And if you go back to what I was just talking about, the extension of those renewable tax credits, that's the law of the land and those are going to provide strong incentives through the 2020s. And so I think that if you look at what the private sector is doing, you look at what other countries are doing, you talk to people who are investing in energy in the United States, there is a significant move toward cleaner sources of energy. That momentum is going to continue.
So we're going to do whatever we can to try to reinforce that and provide the certainty that companies need to make those investments, create those jobs that will come from this. And work like this with our partners internationally is an important part of that effort, because, for example, aligning standards on things like appliances and air conditioners is good for our business. It creates more market opportunities and more certainty for them. And I think that the question of whether you want to undercut American business by pulling back those types of things is one that I don't think we're going to see backsliding on. And frankly, the fact that we have our international partners stepping forward and being more ambitious also reinforces the fact that when America leads on these issues other countries step up and mirror that leadership as well.
So I think that today's announcement reinforces that progress and I think that's momentum that's going to continue.
Q: Specifically on the transmission projects, those are projects that are already, like, in the works, right? They're already in the process. So they're not really new? Am I understanding that correctly?
MR. DEESE: Those projects are projects that take significant periods of time to go through the permitting process and otherwise. What you're seeing today is a commitment by all three countries to prioritize getting those projects done and to work more closely together going forward to harmonize both our process for permitting and approving specific projects, but also our process to work more closely together on grid integration more generally.
One of the things about expanding renewable energy is that it raises more -- as you have more renewable energy on the grid, it raises more questions about reliability issues. And so you see all three countries committing today to work together to get ahead of those issues. And being more harmonized and more aggressive about permitting transmission lines is one of the ways to get ahead of that.
Q: Can you talk about the role of carbon capture technologies with potential for it as a way to meet the 50 percent goal?
MR. DEESE: Well, as is articulated in the new partnership, effective carbon capture technologies could be one of the ways in which countries help meet this clean energy goal. In the United States, we're investing significant resources in research around improving technology and improving the commercialization of the technology around carbon capture and sequestration. That's true in Canada as well, and to some degree in Mexico. So I think that that work will continue.
I think the question of what role CCS technology will play between now and 2025 is one that we don't yet know the answer to because some of it is going to be reflected in what comes out of the research programs and the degree to which it can be proved out commercially. But it's certainly an option that we think is worthy of consideration and worthy of investment in research.
MR. EARNEST: Anyone else?
Thank you, Brian.
Q: Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Before we go on to other topics I want to make you aware of one other development, which is that, as Brian and I were walking back here this morning, the President was on the phone with President Erdogan of Turkey. The President placed that phone call to express his deep condolences on behalf of the American people to the Turkish people for the lives that were lost in yesterday's terror attack at the Istanbul airport. In the context of that call, the President will -- in addition to expressing his condolences -- offer any support that the Turks can benefit from as they conduct this investigation and take steps to further strengthen the security situation in their country.
We'll have a more detailed readout of that call once that conversation has been completed, so you can look for that once we get on the ground.
Q: Did the Turkish President indicate that he will need and want help from the U.S. in their investigation?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any updates at this point. There are obviously previous conversations between U.S. and Turkish officials that have taken place in which that support has also been offered. But I don't have any updates at this point on whether or how U.S. resources could be used to assist ongoing Turkish efforts.
Q: What information does =the United States have about responsibility -- of who was responsible for this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have an official assessment to share from here. Obviously we have a range of capabilities to try to learn for ourselves exactly what has happened, and any information that we obtain that could be useful to the Turkish investigation we certainly will share that information. But I don't have anything -- any information that we've obtained that I can discuss publicly at this point.
Q: The President will be sort of in the neighborhood of Istanbul next week when he travels to Europe. Is he considering altering his schedule to pay a visit to Istanbul, as he did to Paris after the attacks there last year?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any changes to the President's schedule to share at this point. In the context of that travel to Warsaw, the President obviously will have an opportunity to meet with our NATO allies, including Turkey. And I would anticipate that the President will have an opportunity in some setting -- I don't know whether it will be a formal meeting or informally -- to visit with President Erdogan in person.
I would expect that yesterday's violence will be something that will be discussed at today's summit, as well. Obviously it's not just the United States and Turkey that are NATO allies. Canada and Turkey are NATO allies, as well. So this is something that will certainly be on the minds of all three North American leaders as they cover a wide-ranging agenda today.
Q: Does this attack say anything or reflect anything about ISIL's strength and their ability to continue to attack targets and wage war?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, what is true -- and you heard this from Brett McGurk in the White House Briefing Room a couple of weeks ago -- is that we have made important progress in Iraq and in Syria against ISIL. We have steadily made progress in applying additional pressure, particularly in those areas that have previously been essentially ISIL strongholds -- places like Mosul and Raqqa.
Particularly in Iraq, there's been notable progress recently. Iraqi security forces that were backed by the support of coalition military might have retaken the city of Fallujah. This was a city just some 30, 40 miles west of Baghdad that was controlled by ISIL. So this was obviously a significant gain by Iraqi forces, and we obviously were pleased with that progress. But we continue to be concerned by the ability that ISIL has to carry out these kinds of terror attacks not just in Iraq and in Syria but in other places.
That is one of the reasons that we have prioritized our work with Turkey over the last year to shut off the porous border between Turkey and Syria. We've been concerned that ISIL has used that porous border to add foreign fighters to their ranks in Syria. We've been concerned that ISIL has been able to capitalize on a black market by essentially shipping oil across that border. That's something that we've been concerned about. And we have made great progress. And the Turks have made important progress over the last year in shutting off that border. There's still additional work to be done, but that situation has improved significantly just in the last year. And that is a testament to the successful efforts of the Turks and their willingness to cooperate with the United States and our other coalition partners to succeed in that effort.
Part of the case that we made to the Turks was that it was in their own national security interest to address our concerns about the Turkey-Syria border. And unfortunately, there certainly is the potential that this terrorist attack is an illustration of why that's the case.
Let me say one other thing about that. One other element of our efforts to close the border that is important is not just the work that the Turks are doing on the Turkish side of the border, but some of the work that is being done by Syrian-Arab forces on the Syrian side of the border. And there is an operation in the Manbij area, in northern and northwestern Syria, where we're seeing Syrian forces, backed by the United States and our coalition partners, also making some progress. As they continue to make some progress, that will also have a material impact on closing the border between Turkey and Syria.
Q: Josh, I know the White House would rather this trip not be about Donald Trump, but yesterday he called for a withdrawal or renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and just generally made the case for protectionism and high tariffs. What's the White House response? And can we expect to hear from the President on the benefits of trade?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, I assure you that the President's trip to Canada to meet with North American leaders today does not directly involve the 2016 presidential race in the United States. I certainly understand why all of you may have an interest in understanding what impact the President's trip may have on the race, but the President is focused on the very important responsibilities and the very significant stakes for the United States and our economy in strengthening and deepening our relationship with our two neighbors. The broader continent of North America benefits significantly from the ability of our three nations to coordinate closely on a wide range of issues, particularly issues that have an important impact on our economy.
In the context of the President's own campaign in 2007 and 2008, when he was running for President, he talked about the need to improve the trade relationship that the United States maintains with Canada and Mexico. The President followed through on that promise. Both Canada and Mexico have signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the TPP does enable the United States to strengthen the basis of those trade relationships -- that TPP does include enforceable provisions related to raising environmental and labor standards.
And this goes back to the fundamental challenge facing anybody that wants to assume the office of the President of the United States. Many people have made the observation that there are a number of U.S. workers and U.S. communities that have been negatively affected by the broader forces of globalization. There's no denying that. The President certainly doesn't deny that. But the challenge, I think, really is what are you going to do about it. Are you just going to bemoan the impact of globalization on the U.S. economy, on some U.S. workers, and on some U.S. communities? Or are you going to actually do something about it? The President has chosen the latter path. The President has chosen to more deeply engage in the international community, sign on to an agreement that would raise labor standards, raise environmental standards, raise standards to protect intellectual property, and make them enforceable. That will level the playing field.
The President has also made all of that contingent on these other countries doing a better job -- not just Mexico and Canada, but countries in Southeast Asia that have very dynamic economies, and giving U.S. workers and U.S. companies more access to those markets. So not only are we going to level the playing field for those kinds of trade relationships, we're also going to give U.S. companies and U.S. workers more access to those markets. So not only are we competing on a level playing field, we're actually competing for a bigger prize. That is a coherent strategy to address the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the forces of globalization.
So again, I think the President's basic question is, are we just going to bemoan the impact of globalization on the U.S. economy? Or are we actually going to fight to make the advantages of the U.S. economy play in our favor as we confront the forces of globalization? And when you consider the fundamentals of our economy and the vibrancy of our markets, the ambition and motivation of our workers, our ability to educate those workers in the finest education system in the world, the U.S. has so many built-in advantages. And that's why it's important for us to engage in the international community and make those advantages work for us, work for the broader economy, and work for as many American workers as possible. That's exactly what the President is fighting for, and that's exactly what the President promised he would do in 2007 and 2008 when he was running for this job.
Q: But he's making a specific recommendation to renegotiate NAFTA. That's his suggestion. Is that feasible? And is that something that would help workers in America?
MR. EARNEST: Well, when you're saying "he," you're referring to presidential nominee, right?
MR. EARNEST: The case that we have made is, we've already succeeded in renegotiating NAFTA. That's exactly what the TPP does, is it includes obviously countries in the Asia Pacific as well, but it includes Canada and Mexico. And it raises standards related to the environment and to labor conditions in all of the countries that have signed the agreement. It also makes those higher standards enforceable in a way that they weren't in NAFTA.
So the President promised in 2007 and 2008 -- this got a lot of attention -- that he would work -- he would engage with our partners to make changes to those agreements to make them more fair to U.S. workers and to the broader U.S. economy. That's exactly what we've succeeded in doing.
So again, this is the direct question. We can either bemoan the impact of globalization, we can vow to try to extract the U.S. economy from other countries around the world, or we can seek to use the advantages that the United States has worked generations to build up to work in our favor in the future. And the President believes that we can leverage all the benefits in this country of an education system, of a dynamic economy, of a modern infrastructure, of a business climate that is conducive to innovation and economic success. And failing to capitalize on those opportunities is doing a grave disservice to future generations of Americans.
Q: Josh, does the President believe there is still a chance, even the slightest one, that Brexit will not happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think the leaders of the UK have spoken to this, and I think they have signaled quite strongly the finality of the decision that British voters have made. The process that the UK will undertake to leave the EU is something that will be negotiated directly between leaders in the UK and the European Union.
What we have indicated, as it relates to U.S. interests, is that we intend to preserve the special relationship that exists between the United States and the United Kingdom. That applies to our security relationship; it also applies to our economic relationship. The United States also benefits from the kind of strong alliances and important economic ties that we have with members of the European Union. And the President is committed to ensuring that we not just maintain those strong ties, but actually look for ways to deepen them. And that's part of what negotiating the T-TIP agreement, a trade agreement with the EU, is all about. It's also what the President and other NATO leaders will discuss at the NATO Summit in Warsaw next week. There will be an opportunity for us to discuss how we can further intensify the engagement of all of our allies in our NATO Alliance. And that is critical to the national security not just of the United States, but all of our NATO partners, including Turkey. And the President looks forward to that discussion next week as well.
Q: How much will Brexit be on the agenda today in discussions?
MR. EARNEST: I'm confident that it will be discussed because of the impact that it has had on global financial markets. The kind of volatility that we've seen in global financial markets has an impact on the economy not just in the United States, but also Canada and Mexico. So to that extent, I do anticipate that the leader will discuss it, but I do not expect that it will be the focal point of their discussions today.
Q: What's the latest with rescheduling with Secretary Clinton on the campaign trail?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I expect that we'll have some news on that relatively soon, so stay tuned.
Q: Has the President made any more calls to European leaders, like President Hollande, for instance, or anyone like that since Brexit, other than the two calls that you read out already?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any calls to read out -- any additional calls to read out beyond the conversations that the President had with Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Merkel last week.
We'll see you guys on the ground.
END 9:53 A.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Senior Advisor to the President Brian Deese Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/318001