print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 17, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One En Route Minneapolis, Minnesota


9:28 A.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Stop me if you have all of this already.  I just want to give you a little color and background.  First stop, which will be a 20-minute stop, 10:00 a.m. to 10:20 a.m. Minnesota Time, the President is going to tour District Energy.  District Energy uses innovative combined heat and power technologies to burn coal, natural gas, oil and renewables, such as wood biomass, to provide low-cost heating to 146 large buildings and 298 single-family residences in downtown St. Paul.

     Through cogeneration of steam and electricity -- that's where hot water is boiled to create heat and steam for the process -- is captured to create more electricity, it helps power the system with very high efficiency ratings.

     The high-tech system was chosen by the President.  He wanted to go to a high-tech system like this because it demonstrates something in his plan, which is how conventional fuels can be used in conjunction with renewable resources in a high efficiency system to provide low-cost, reliable power.  So that's a 20-minute tour.

     Then, from 10:45 a.m. to approximately 11:15 a.m., the President will deliver his remarks.  And that will be a the Capital City Partnership, which was founded by St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, which is a coalition of leaders dedicated to promoting and developing the city's downtown area.  That's where you will get the message -- it will be delivered there.

     And then the President will depart; filing stays behind.  Andrew Lundquist, who is a senior administration official, will stay behind, be available to answer any additional questions you might have.  And then from 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Iowa, the President will visit another facility that is cutting-edge and shows an element of his plan, using renewables in a way that generates electricity to energy for consumers.  And that's the Iowa Energy Center. It's a high-tech research facility that works to bridge the gap between laboratory research and real-world applications.  It's called BECON, which -- well, the Iowa Energy Center created a program called BECON, which is Biomass Energy Conservation.  And they use biomass to produce energy.

     The Iowa Energy Center also leads the state in providing accurate, usable information on wind and solar research.  So these are cutting-edge ways of generating power through alternative resources.  The President's budget and the President's energy plan provide incentives for the development of alternative fuels.  That's the program.

     Q  Ari, I'm curious as to why -- when the primary message of this report, as I've read it so far -- is that energy efficiency, reliance on renewables and even conservation really can't solve what is the energy problem in the United States, so the President is going out of his way to put together photo opportunities at places that don't deal with the central recommendation of the report.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As you'll hear in the President's remarks themselves, the President's going to talk about a broad energy policy that's comprehensive, that relies on conservation, innovation, new technologies and production, as well as modernization of the infrastructure.  He's going to put it in very plain ways, too.  He's going to talk about when it comes to infrastructure, the President is going to talk about how people want to know that there is a way to get energy from the power plant to the flick of a switch.  And that requires infrastructure.

     So all that is going to be discussed in the President's remarks.  The President thinks it's important to remind Americans that there are new, cutting-edge technologies that are innovative, that focus on -- something you've heard him talk about often -- which is technology is the solution to a lot of America's problems as things become more efficient, as alternative fuels can be developed.  So he's going to highlight that which is newest.

     Q  And I understand the talking points.  But what I'm asking is, is there a sense that politically, it's important to demonstrate that there is a commitment to conservation?  Do people think that he just wants to drill for oil in ANWR?  Is there a perception problem?  Because, again, I'm reading the report.  You're talking about the balanced approach; I understand that. But even the report spells out clearly that high technology, use of renewables, energy efficiency will not solve the supply problem.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, it's because the President understands that conservation is very important.  And when a president speaks of conservation, it can inspire millions of Americans to make good decisions so they, too, conserve. So the President wants to focus on things in here that are new, that are cutting-edge, and that's why he's visiting St. Paul today.

    Q  On the nuclear provisions, polls show a majority of Americans, 60 percent or whatever, have consistently opposed an expansion of nuclear power.  How do you go about changing that or winning acceptance for that push?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There has been such a change in nuclear power in the last 20, 30 years in this country.  There is new nuclear power.  And the very fact that one out of five homes in America can't turn on their lights without nuclear power is a reminder of how our nation does use nuclear power.

     In France, for example, 80 percent of electricity comes from nuclear power. So the President understands that technology, safety, modernization, means that nuclear power can be an environmentally friendly and safe part of America's energy mix.

     Q  Apparently, that message has not sunk in with the public at large.  Do you recognize a selling job is necessary?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If presidents lead by polls when it comes to energy, America's lights will slowly go out.  To solve the energy problem, it requires a president who will lead the nation, who will make proposals that focus on conservation, modernization, production, so that a serious problem can be solved in a way that the American people look to leaders to solve.

    Q  Ari, when resident talks about all these new technologies today, will there be any assurances that his plan will offer short-term relief that people on the Hill are demanding?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I said, really, throughout the week, the President's program provides relief in the short term and the long term.

    Q  Is he going to talk about that?  I mean, talk about this spot market and the impact on the markets that you were discussing yesterday?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's going to talk about a comprehensive energy plan to help solve the problem.

     Q  Will we see the President go to a refinery, or will he go sit on an oil pipeline to talk about this?  I mean, no, seriously -- like -- as far as, I know that's the emphasis of the report.  Will we see him going to places like that, that are controversial as far as environmentalists and other people are concerned?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll keep you filled in on future trips.

    Q  Ari, would you at least concede that there is a perception problem about the President's intention?  Does he have a tough sales job to do here?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think after all the years of a lack of a national energy policy, whoever is president, who took on this issue has a challenge, because energy has been so neglected.  And, again, the President's not focused on polls, the President's not focused on perceptions; he's focused on addressing something that's very serious so people's lights don't go out.

    Q  Just to be clear, so you're saying that public sentiment was not factored in at all when it came to a question of what to emphasize in this approach to energy?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me repeat what I just said:  The President is not --

     Q  I heard what you said, Ari.  So you're saying that public sentiment was not taken into account at all in terms of emphasis?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If you want to engage in a monologue, feel free.  But I'm answering your --

     Q  I'm asking you a question, Ari.  And you dodged the other one, so I'm asking it again.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I will repeat the answer I gave.  If you don't like it, you can live your monologue.

     Q  I'm just trying to get to the answer.  Did you read Jimmy Carter's editorial in The Washington Post this morning?  He had some real critical words for you and for the administration about how you've been characterizing this energy "crisis," and the prescriptions that you guys are talking about.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the President's focus is going to be on a comprehensive plan that addresses the issue and gets it solved.

    Q  What's your reaction to a former president's criticism of how you're handling this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  This nation, for many years, has not had a serious energy policy that was focused on comprehensive solutions, and that's what the President's focus will be.

    Q  Is it Jimmy Carter's fault?  He seemed to be suggesting that.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is not interested in pointing fingers or placing blame.  The President's interested in solving the problem.

    Q  Can I just follow on that real quick?  When we interviewed the Vice President and when the Vice President talked to lawmakers yesterday, he's had some pretty pointed words for the past administration about not addressing this problem and really talks in critical tones about that.  So he is looking behind and sort of pointing fingers.  So why can we sometimes --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, there's a difference between placing blame and stating some of that as factual about the nation has not had an energy policy for many years.  If you remember the very end of the Clinton administration, Gene Sperling convened some meetings about the California problem.  They tried to address it; they decided not to have price controls.

     In September and October, of course, as the energy issue became more than a campaign issue, the administration faced it.  Their decision was to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  The problem has been a long time coming. Solutions have not been focused on in any type of comprehensive way until now.

     Q  Ari, does the President, or has he ever talked about feeling like he gets stereotyped because he's an oil man?  Has he ever discussed that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  Again, the President's focus is on the policy, and that's why he's proud that he instantly took this issue on as President, and immediately upon becoming President, he acted.  I think, frankly --

    Q  Does he have a hurdle to -- because of his oil background?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the American people are grateful to have a President who, immediately, from day one identified this as problem that needed a solution, and that they have a president who is willing to take on this issue because people don't want their lights to go out, people don't want to pay sky-high bills, they don't want to pay $2 for gas, and they know they need to look to someone who will demonstrate leadership to help get the job done.

     Q  He feels like his oil background has helped him understand the situation maybe in a way he wouldn't have understood if he didn't have that history?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I've not heard the President reflect -- I mean, I've heard the President talk about the policies --

     Q  But you're an image-maker and you're sort of a wordsmith.  You've never -- you guys have never sat down and thought, wow, there could be a problem that the President, the Vice President, the Chief of Staff -- I mean, 25 people in your administration come from the energy and auto industry -- never thought that this could be problematic as you put together an energy plan that focuses mostly on supply and mostly on industry?  That's never been discussed in the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, if you look at the number of recommendations in here that deal with alternatives, that deal with renewables, there are a series of proposals on those items to increase the use of alternatives and renewables. And so that's part of his comprehensive approach.

    Q  Do you think it was ever discussed, what perception it might cause, since there are so many people that come from there, that never gets talked about?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I guess you just have to get used to a different way of doing business.  This administration is focused much more on policy and solving problems.

    Q  We're not saying you have, but you're just saying we ought to focus on something else.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm just saying that's where the President's focus is.

     Q  Why can't you answer that with a yes or no answer?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sharing with you the President's focus.

     Q  But his question is a pretty simple one; either a yes or no.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If you're asking me to say is there a problem, and I'm telling you the problem the President --

     Q  We're asking you if he's ever even talked about it.  I mean, people have written about this, done editorials.  We've done a story on it; many people have done stories on this.  Have you guys ever talked about the problem that this could cause?  I mean, you guys are about to shop an enormous change in United States policy.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's focus is on his policies.

    Q  Can I get an answer?  I didn't hear your answer to his question about whether we'll ever see him do one of these events at an oil refinery or a pipeline --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think he said sitting on a pipeline.

    Q  Sitting at a pipe -- at a refinery or --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And my answer was if we have future events, we'll fill you in.

    Q  Ari, is the President going to use the bully pulpit to ask Americans to conserve more?  Is he going to lead the effort and say Americans need to use less energy than they do now?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  In the President's remarks today, he will talk about the values and the benefits of conservation.

    Q  Will he ask people to be more conscious with the energy they use? Turn off the lights, turn down the heat, that kind of thing?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You're going to get texts of the speech, distribute it so you'll have it; also, we'll have it available for everybody.  No, no.  What I'm saying is you'll hear it in the way the President says it, and I think you can draw your conclusion from the way he says it.

     Q  We're just all a little bit confused, because it seems that there is such a -- I mean, you read that report, you talk to Dick Cheney, you talk to Lundquist, you talk to anybody in this administration, and it really is supply, supply, supplying and production, that these are the problems, these are the solutions.

     Yet, what you guys talk about in the forums that you promote this thing, all about conservation and renewables, I mean, why is that?  Why are you talking about one thing --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, take a look at California, for example. Governor Davis's part of the solution that he's identified to the state's energy woes has emphasized the importance of bringing on the new power plants this summer. So, clearly, supply, production is a part of anybody, regardless of their political party's mix to solve this problem.  Conservation plays an important role.

     But in answer to the question, the President wants to visit here because it's technology-driven, it's cutting-edge, and so therefore, he's visiting it.

    Q  But do you acknowledge that you're emphasizing something that's deemphasized in the report?  And it just -- I'm really confused.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You're bouncing it every which way you want, and my answer remains the same.

    Q  What do you say to the Sierra Club that says it would be more honest for you to go visit the sooty coal plant?  I mean, why not answer that question, then?  The Sierra Club is running ads in each of the cities that the President visits today and tomorrow, saying it would be more honest to visit the coal-burning plant and the nuke Three Mile Island?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The Sierra Club would not turn its back on valuable efforts that rely on technology and innovation to produce renewables.

    Q  Ari, let's put it this way.  You clearly agree that the major emphasis of this report is on increasing supply of energy.  Is that right?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The emphasis of this report is comprehensive.  It's focused on conservation, it's focused on modernization, it's focused on supply.  At the front of the report, there is a table that lays out how Americans choose to use their energy.

     Q  When the President makes remarks about this, it's true, isn't it, that he emphasizes supply.  Isn't that right?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You can make your own inference about what he emphasizes when you hear it.

     Q  It's not inference, I mean, it's yes or no.  I mean --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- he emphasizes a comprehensive approach.

     Q  What does the President do, personally, in the Residence, or what are you guys going to do in the White House to set an example of conservation?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  A few weeks ago, when the President announced the instructions to the Department of Defense and other federal facilities to cut back on energy use, particularly in high-peak states, high-peak moments, and in areas that are most affected, he announced a 30-day review, and we're in the middle of the 30-day review.

    Q  But you know yet how it might specifically affect the White House as an example for America --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Still in the middle of a 30-day review.

    Q  Is he asking you guys to drive slower, get different cars?  Turn off lights?

    Q  Turn off your light?

    Q  Quit using your computer, use paper?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that's a great question for people who are driven in SUVs to events to extol the values of conservation.

    Q  We're flying on biomass today.  Did you know that?  (Laughter.) One more thing on conservation.  Does he stand by the Vice President's comments about that, that conservation is a personal virtue, but is not the foundation of any serious energy policy?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  What the Vice President said was conservation is a virtue, and that conservation, alone, is not a comprehensive policy.

     Q  Does he stand by your comment about -- you know, a lot has been made since you've said it about the American way of life being a blessed way and that policy makers have a responsibility to protect it.  Have you talked to him about that comment?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Sure.

    Q  And he agrees that our energy-guzzling --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And he believes that we can have a balanced program, a comprehensive program that encourages conservation and does so in a way that maintains the American standard of living.

     Thanks, everybody.

     Q  Are we in a crisis?  Energy crisis?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If your lights went out, it's a crisis.  If you're in any areas that's hit by blackouts, it's a crisis.  As soon as those lights go out, you are in a crisis.

     Q  And nationally?

     Q  -- country to be in a crisis?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It has a risk of becoming a national crisis. But certainly, many areas of the country --

    Q  How do you guys define a crisis?  I mean, seriously -- because there was sort of this talk -- what happens when there is one?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's very common-sensical.  If you're in an area of the country where your lights went out, you are in a crisis.  That means your hot water won't run, that means you may not have gas, or you may not have a stove or oven that works, depending on if it's electricity-driven as opposed to gas-driven.  It means if you're in a hot area, your air conditioner might not work, and you have -- you get overheated in the apartment.   If it's wintertime, it means you can be -- the apartment is too cold.  And for those people, that is a crisis.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

9:45 A.M. EDT