Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

May 04, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon. It's good to be back in Iowa. I have one brief statement to make before I answer questions.


Today, I spoke to the Iowa county officials about the need to develop new and innovative approaches to our serious energy problem. No one feels more strongly than I do about the need to harness cost-effective technology to solve our energy problems, but we must never allow ourselves to become the victim of our own technology.

If we've learned anything about the recent accident at Three Mile Island, it should be this: As we develop our Nation's energy policy, the safety of every American must be uppermost in our minds.

More than 2 years before the accident in Pennsylvania, I began an effort to kill the Clinch River breeder reactor, so that this country could have a rational, safe, and responsible nuclear energy policy. This is no time to change America into a plutonium society.

The recent vote by the House Science and Technology Committee to proceed with the Clinch River fast breeder reactor over my consistent opposition is a major, potential setback to this effort. The Clinch River breeder reactor is a technological dinosaur. It's a waste of more than $1 1/2 billion of taxpayers' money. It's an assault on our attempts to control the spread of dangerous nuclear materials. It marches our nuclear policy in exactly the wrong direction.

As nuclear power plays a part in our overall energy policy for the foreseeable future, we must proceed cautiously. We must minimize the risks to our society, and above all, we must not plunge into potentially dangerous, unproven, and unnecessary new technologies which may never produce benefits to offset their costs and risks.

We can avoid that mistake by proceeding with an orderly and scientifically sound breeder research and development program, but our immediate attention must be focused on improving the safety of our current nuclear technology to ensure that a Three Mile Island accident never happens again.

We do not need to build a plant based on a wholly new technology about which far less is known than the nuclear reactors that we currently use.

I want to repeat today my longstanding and consistent request to the Congress to deny the well-financed efforts of the big utilities and the energy companies. We must terminate the Clinch River breeder reactor. We have a far more immediate task at hand?putting our existing nuclear power into order and ensuring safety.

I will continue to oppose the construction of this unnecessary, wasteful, and unsound project, and I urge the advocates of the Clinch River project to reconsider their efforts to salvage this ill-conceived idea.

I also urge all those who share my concern about controlling, and the safety of nuclear power to let your voices be heard in the Congress before it's too late.

And now, I would like to recognize Mr. Bill Baker for the first question.



Q. Mr. President, I'm from the Clinton, Iowa, Herald. I'd like to ask you what counsel and advice you can offer to those on fixed incomes, particularly the elderly, and all sorts of those workers employed by firms that are conscientiously attempting to follow your 7-percent wage-price guidelines, especially in view of the fact that the inflation rate is now approaching 13 percent.

THE PRESIDENT. I think the inflation rate is going to turn and go down in the foreseeable future, after a few months. We have early indications of that. Also, as you know, built into the social security system, for instance, is an automatic escalator clause to protect our old people from the devastating effects of inflation. Only this week we increased social security payments, I believe, about 9 percent, based on history, recent history, in the inflationary trend.

We are doing everything we can to encourage the anti-inflation fight to be a nationwide fight?not trying to find scapegoats, not believing that the Government itself can do it all.

In spite of the fact that we have cut the budget deficit more than half, we have a very tight budget proposal. We have a sound dollar now. We are increasing exports considerably. Our balance of trade overseas has become very favorable, compared to what it was previously.

We still have some uncontrollable factors. One of those is the price of foreign oil. We're trying to reduce our dependence upon it. Another, obviously, is the high cost of food items which are in scarce supply?fresh fruits and vegetables-caused by a very severe winter in the growing States; very short beef herds, brought about by beef price controls put on by the previous Republican administration; and other factors over which the Government nor private industry nor labor have any control.

But I can say that out of the last 90 wage settlements, 80 of them have been fully within the wage and price standards. And we have carefully monitored the 500 largest corporations, all of them and most of the middle-sized and smaller corporations, and they are substantially within the guidelines in establishing their specific prices. When we identify one that we believe to be out of compliance, we contact them directly. And in almost every case so far, they have voluntarily changed their prices downward and, in one or two cases, have even refunded to their customers overcharges that they had initiated before we caught them in their violations.

So, I think the essence of it is, things look better in the future if we are patient. This is a 10-year inflationary burden. We're trying to turn it downward, but everybody is going to have to cooperate.

And now, I understand that Michael Holmes [Associated Press] has the next question.


Q. Mr. President, noting Governor Brown's plan for limited gas rationing in California and the ever-increasing demand for energy supplies, is there any way to convince people to voluntarily conserve, or are mandatory controls inevitable?

THE PRESIDENT. I think there is a way to convince people voluntarily to control the waste of energy. I think, first of all, the Congress is going to have to be convinced.

A few years ago, I was mandated by the Congress, for instance, to develop a standby gasoline rationing plan?not to be put into effect instantly, but to be developed very carefully and to make sure that it's equitable and fair just to have it on the shelf if we do have a nationwide shortage of gasoline. It could then only be implemented if both the President and the Congress thought it was necessary. I think we're going to have to have, perhaps, a few demonstrable shortages, as is now being faced in California, to show that this is necessary.

Another thing that we need to do is to have mandatory savings programs like the setting of thermostats in public buildings, to hold the temperature no lower than 80 degrees in the summer and no higher than 65 degrees in the winter. This saves a lot of energy.

And I believe there's a tremendous desire on the part of American people to go back to those simple forms of energy that I described to the county officials this morning. For instance, 750,000 Americans bought wood stoves last year, a very good move in the right direction.

And we're doing all we can within the Government to encourage Americans voluntarily to restrain themselves. We also have some mandatory laws. I don't have time to go into all of them. One of them is a very stringent law that, year-by-year, will require Detroit and other cities where automobiles are manufactured to give us more efficient automobiles. And we are exploring technology, in cooperation with them and other manufacturers, to make the items that use energy, necessary for us, to be more efficient.

It's a long, tedious process. We've never had a national energy, policy before. The Congress has courageously addressed this very difficult issue, and I believe that the benefits will be obvious in the future. But it's going to have to be a combination of mandatory controls and voluntary, with the heavy emphasis on voluntary.

Ms. Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International].


Q. Mr. President, you were recently instrumental in securing the release of several Russian dissidents. In similar terms of humanity, would you be willing to exert influence on the Israeli Government to secure the release of a young American woman? Her name is Terre Fleener of San Antonio, and she is wasting away in Israeli jails. 1

1 Terre Fleener was convicted of giving information on Israeli security arrangements to members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. She was released from prison on June 30, 1979, after serving 20 months of a 5-year sentence.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not familiar with the case, but before this day is over, I will contact the Secretary of State and ask him to initiate an investigation and seek her release, if it's considered to be advisable.


Q. Mr. President, Mark Braun, with KCCI-TV in Des Moines. Since Iowa was the State that changed "Jimmy Who?" to "Jimmy Carter" 3 years ago


Q.?? don't you think it would be appropriate to make your formal announcement right here that you're going to run for reelection? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. No. [Laughter]

Q. Any indication one way or the other?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think it's best for me, in this time of some excitement about progress and some concern about problems, to remain a full-time President. It's too early for me to get involved in any discussion about an upcoming election.

But I will always remember that my visit?as someone pointed out this morning-to, I think, 119 Iowa cities, and my going on farms at the time land was being broken, corn was being planted, fertilizer applied, cultivation, harvest season, when pigs were being farrowed?I think I got a picture of our Nation, particularly the farm community, that stands me in good stead now. And I also learned about the plight of American farmers under the previous administration that has stood me in good stead in choosing Secretary Bergland and qualified farmers to run the department. But I benefited greatly from my visits to Iowa as a President. But I'll remain a President for the foreseeable future and devote my full time to that job. Judy [Judy Woodruff, NBC News].


Q. Mr. President, we know your position on the breeder, the nuclear breeder reactor.


Q. But in light of the information that Secretary Califano presented yesterday on Capitol Hill, that as many as 10 people could die of cancer directly because of the accident at Three Mile Island, have you begun to rethink your attitude about the light water reactor? After all, it was that kind of reactor where this accident happened.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm deeply concerned about it and, as you know, have appointed a special Presidential commission to look into the causes of the accident, to see what mistakes may have been made in the design or operation of the plant, to make more effective the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and, also, to make sure that if we have a repetition at any time of a similar accident, that there be a better coordination between private, local, State, Federal officials.

Obviously, nuclear reactor safety is the preeminent concern, and I believe that this is an opinion shared by Americans throughout our Nation. It's not a new concern for me. I've been involved in nuclear power in one form or another since 1952, and I'm familiar with the limitations of it, and I'm familiar with the concerns about it.

It's hard to estimate accurately how many people's lives may have been affected by very low levels of additional radiation. It's hard to quantify them. But if any single person either dies prematurely or has any sort of injury or aberration, it would be of deep concern to me.

But I think we have a proper degree, now, of commitment, through this Commission-which will report very expeditiously, commensurate with a broad range of their discussions and investigations in 6 months?to prevent any further accidents of this kind.

Q. Do you still consider yourself a strong supporter of the concept of nuclear power?

THE PRESIDENT. I have always thought that nuclear power should be used as a last resort in the evolution of energy. But I also recognize that when you use what oil is available, and what natural gas is available, and what coal is available, and what solar energy is available, up until now we have seen a need to use nuclear power.

We now get about 12 percent, I think, of our electricity from nuclear power. Some States, like Illinois, for instance, get a great deal more of their power from nuclear powerplants. And it would not be advisable to terminate this use peremptorily. The thing to do is?those that have to continue to provide needed power?to make sure they are safe and, in the future, to try to have conservation, which we've never emphasized in our country adequately, and to shift to alternative means of power to reduce the necessary dependence upon atomic power which we have experienced in recent years.


Q. Mr. President, Mike Waring, from the Blackhawk Stations. In your speech this morning, you mentioned the increased spending for gasohol development by the Federal Government. So far, the Department of Energy has downplayed the importance of gasohol. Why do you think gasohol should be developed, and how much can we count on it in the future for downplaying our gasoline usage?

THE PRESIDENT. It's one of those incremental approaches to energy that will be of aid. To decrease the gasoline consumption of automobiles to get 1/2 mile more per gallon has a tremendous benefit over our country. Other nations, like Brazil in some regions, have at least 10 percent of all their automobile fuel consisting of gasohol or similar materials.

I think gasohol has a possibility beyond its actual cost and use, because gasohol can be evolved from waste products that are presently very costly. It's extremely costly, for instance, in the making of, say, paper, where you take the entire tree, minus its bark, and through chemical processes, extract paper. Formerly those gases were sometimes dispensed into the atmosphere. It was a very costly process. The heat had to be generated anyhow, and you were fouling the atmosphere with very precious gases. Now those same companies, through new techniques that they've just learned in the last few years, are condensing those gases and using them in a form similar to gasohol or methanol.

Additionally, animal wastes, food wastes that are resulting from the processing of all kinds of foods, including animals, city garbage, these kinds of things can be used for fuel and to produce gasohol.

I was in India last year and went to a very small town in a poverty-stricken region. One of the most interesting things that the very poor people had there was a small tank, three or four hundred gallons, where they dumped their human and animal wastes, extracted from it gas, through a pipe, to use in several homes for both heating and cooking, and then after this process was over, they drained the remaining sediment off and used it for fertilizing the fields.

So, on a very tiny basis of that kind, with a very small plant, all the way up to a large production plant, I think we have a good possibility in the future.

And we don't know what the future might bring. At even existing levels of price, gasohol may not be economically advisable. But as the price of oil, for instance, in the future goes up?in a very slow process, I hope?then gasohol will become ever more competitive. I think it has a good possibility. It's one of those things that we cannot ignore.


Q. Mr. President, do you think Governor Brown was warranted to today authorize the counties of California and the local subdivisions to put in this odd-even gas allocation plan? And is there anything the Federal Government could do to help California out of this sort of abnormal shortage because of the glut of high-sulfur oil, but the lack of the type of oil it needs?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, he was warranted. I'll be meeting with Governor Brown this afternoon when I arrive in California. The proposal that we have made to the Congress for standby authority to implement limited days for purchase can only go into effect after the Governor of a particular State goes through this process presently being experienced in California.

In other words, the first thing is a voluntary conservation measure to cut back on, say, gasoline, 2 or 3 percent, whatever is required. Secondly, the Governor proposes either odd-even days or weekend purchases or some other means to save gasoline. Only after that process takes place does the Federal Government institute a possible weekend closing. We've not yet been able to get the Congress to approve that. But I do think that he has acted properly and I do think he's acted responsibly.

I would do anything within my power to aid Governor Brown in this particular time, with a gasoline shortage. And I would say that this is not the first, it's certainly not the last gasoline shortage that our country will experience.

And we've almost forgotten now what we did see in 1973 and 1974. And this is an early indication of a repetition of gasoline shortages. As I said a couple of weeks ago and again in my energy speech a little bit longer ago, we anticipate gasoline shortages this summer. The California experience is a few months before I thought it would be.

Next summer, we think the shortages are going to be even greater. And one reason is that we have got to have an adequate supply of home heating oil, for instance, in New England, and we have got to have an adequate supply of gasoline and distillate for farm tractors and other equipment to use to produce food.

So, the average motorist is going to be faced with more shortages of gasoline in the future than we have experienced today. And we ought to be ready for it. And we're not yet ready for it.


Q. Dave Beeder, from the Omaha World-Herald. You said today you were planning to buy a stove for the White House. What room are you going to heat with that stove?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say I was going to buy it. [Laughter] One of the stove manufacturers? [laughter] ?sent a letter to one of the United States Senators and said they had a stove that they would like to contribute to the American people to be used in the White House or at Camp David. And I have asked for further information about it. And I intend to install it, depending on its configuration and so forth, either in one of the rooms where we live or, perhaps, in my private office in the West Wing. But this is a contribution to the American people, and I might hasten to add that when I leave the White House, the stove will stay there. [Laughter]


Q. Mr. President, the other day in a news conference when talking about deregulation, you said it wasn't your idea, and you indicated that the reason you hadn't pushed it was because chances in Congress were very unlikely for passage. My question now is, would you support deregulation or an extension of price controls on gasoline if it passes both the House and Senate this year?

THE PRESIDENT. This question concerns me because it has a very complex effect, perhaps, on what Congress does. I don't think there's a chance in the world that the Senate, with a potential filibuster, will possibly pass legislation to extend price controls on oil. If the House and Senate pass this legislation and send it to me, I will certainly not veto it. We will live with it. The thing that concerns me is that there are many people, because of varying motivations, who want to stop the passage of a windfall profits tax. And as long as they can hold out a glimmer of hope that we won't have either?we won't have decontrol, so therefore we need not have a windfall profits tax?I'm afraid that the oil companies might escape the sure implication of a windfall profits tax.

So, to summarize, if the Congress should pass extended controls, I would not veto it, but I believe we need to concentrate our efforts on passage of a real, strong windfall profits tax.

Q. A brief followup. Will you continue to fight it in the House as you did the other day?the extension of controls?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we didn't make an all-out effort to stop it. What we did do was to point out to the Members of the House the argument that I've just described to you, that it's almost impossible to conceive of extended controls passing the entire Congress and, therefore, let's don't sidetrack the congressional effort and let the oil companies escape the imposition of the windfall profits tax.

My judgment is that no matter what the House does, the Senate will never pass an extension of oil price controls. And so, we have got to focus our attention not on a fruitless effort with that legislation, but on a real, genuine test of strength between the American people and the oil companies and get a windfall profits tax passed.


Q. Mr. President, this morning you mentioned that you're going to be talking with Mexican officials this weekend about possibly swapping American grain for Mexican oil.


Q. I was wondering at this time, would you be willing to take that one step further and speak to the OPEC countries about that kind of a swap?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think you know that corn, for instance, or soybeans or wheat is sold to the OPEC countries on a worldwide marketing system. There's a plentiful supply at this time. We have desperately been trying to avoid the kind of confusion that existed when I first came to Iowa. We have increased exports every year to set record levels?last year $27 billion worth of American farm products were sold overseas. This year we hope to reach $30 billion worth. So, I don't think it would be feasible to try to work out any sort of swap deal with the OPEC nations.

But with Foreign Minister Roel, tomorrow at the Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Los Angeles, I will discuss this proposal made by Congressman Neal Smith. That may be a sound basis on which to reach an agreement, because the proximity to Mexico means that we can have special delivery both of oil from them to us, including natural gas in the future, and also grain. But to have a similar swap deal, I think, would probably be infeasible for the OPEC countries as a whole.


Q. Mr. President, in the first 3 months of this year, the American oil companies had profits that were twice the average profits for all American corporations. Your Secretary of Energy, Mr. Schlesinger, in a television appearance last month, said that the profits of oil companies are not too high, they're perfectly in line with everyone else. Now, implicit in your windfall tax proposal is the assumption that if it isn't passed, and you have decontrol, that the oil companies will reap very, very high profits. My question to you is, leaving aside the windfall profits tax and the question of decontrol, do you think oil profits are too high now?

THE PRESIDENT. Compared to other corporations, the oil companies' profits are at a high level, not higher than any other corporations. On a comparison between capital investment and return on investment, I think they're running 12 or 13 percent, which is a bountiful return on investment.

If those returns are invested back into increasing American production of natural gas, oil, and other related materials, I think it's a very sound thing for our country. But the decontrol process will give them additional income above and beyond what I've described.

Under the windfall profits tax, of every dollar in increased income from that source, they would only be permitted to keep 29 cents. My hope, again, is that they would take that 29 cents and reinvest it back into the further production of oil and gas.

So, this is what I'm concerned about, and the reason that I think in some instances the profits have been excessive in the past, above what they needed for production, is that some of the oil companies have gone far outside their field, even completely beyond the realm of energy, and bought fast food market chains, or motels and hotels and things of that kind, that have no relation to energy. I want to see them invest their profits back into energy production.


Q. Mr. President, in your speech this morning you indicated, or tried to reassure this State they would have the diesel fuel supplies that they need.

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. Now, the State Energy Policy Council here doesn't feel that way. They feel that there are going to be some severe shortages in the State as far as diesel fuel goes. And what I'm asking you is, what do you feel that the proposals that you offered this morning to the State association are going to do to alleviate any of these predicted shortages that the State here feels are .definitely going to happen?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would be glad to repeat the things that I said this morning.

First of all, when any shortage occurs on a nationwide basis, I have the authority to establish priorities and to make a limited degree of allocation. And along with hospitals, ambulances, police protection, and fire protection, in the top priority comes food production, agriculture. And if all the items that I described this morning should prove to be inadequate, then I would use that authority of mine to make an emergency allocation of additional fuel oil, distillate, and gasoline to the farmers to get their crops planted, cultivated and, ultimately, harvested.

Secretary Bergland has already determined that under the natural gas legislation passed in 1978, that he will make available to farmers 100 percent of their needs for natural gas, primarily used in the crop-drying season. So, I can assure you that this will be adequate.

If local imbalances occur, then we will give the Governors the authority to take 4 percent of all of the fuel oil and gasoline that comes into the State and allocate it themselves at the State level, where there's more sensitivity about local need, directly to those areas that might have a temporary imbalance. And the other thing that we will do is to permit suppliers of fuel oil and gasoline to borrow on their future allocations if there is a shortage.

Now, I'm familiar with the fact that the groundbreaking season and the planting season in Iowa has been delayed. There's going to be a rush among the farmers to catch up with lost time. And we have already assimilated this. Secretary Bergland, Secretary Schlesinger, and I have made as careful preparations as possible to assure that there is no shortage of fuel in Iowa during this year.

And I've given you the best answer I can, and within the bounds of my authority and human competence and my complete dedication, what I said this morning will be carried out.

Ms. THOMAS. Thank you, Mr. President.


[President Carter's forty-ninth news conference began at 2 p.m. in the Lower Monterey Room at the Des Moines Hyatt House. As he was leaving the room, the President answered an additional question from a reporter as follows.]


Q. Sir, if you'd been asked about the change in the British Government, what would you have said?

THE PRESIDENT. I talked with Mrs. Thatcher within the last hour and pledged her my support and cooperation, congratulated her on her victory. We made arrangements to consult very quickly through the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, who will be named tomorrow, and the Secretary of State, Secretary Vance.

I've already talked to Secretary Vance as a followup, and told him to be prepared for this consultation. She and I will be exchanging messages and letters. We will be meeting with each other next month, at the latest, in Tokyo. And we've made arrangements to have a private meeting so that we can compare the policies of our two nations at that time. In the meantime, our Cabinet members will be consulting even more closely and perhaps more personally.

But I'm obviously convinced that the outcome of the election will not in any way interfere in the superb relationships that have always existed between our countries since I've been in office and for many years before that.

Note: President Carter's forty-ninth news conference began at 2 p.m. in the Lower Monterey Room at the Des Moines Hyatt House.

Held in Des Moines, Iowa.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249104

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