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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 18, 2003

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

12:05 P.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me walk you through the President's morning. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Following the briefings, the President placed a phone call to Secretary Abraham. The President continued to emphasize the need to find out what caused the blackout and to do so as quickly as possible. The two discussed the ongoing investigation into the cause. As you're aware, we continue to aggressively investigate the cause of the blackout so we can better seek solutions.

Just this weekend, the Department of Energy dispatched teams of investigators to the Northeast and Upper Midwest to begin their onsite investigation. The President and Prime Minister Chretien spoke Friday and established the joint taskforce between the United States and Canada. Secretary Abraham is scheduled to meet with his Canadian counterpart on Wednesday. And the Department of Energy is already collecting information and talking to the appropriate people at utilities, at the North American Electric Reliability Council and independent system operators to investigate the causes. The two also talked about the importance and the need to modernize the electrical delivery system and improve the transmission infrastructure.

And just one -- if someone will remind me at the end, I have one announcement I want to make at the end of this. And with that, I'm happy to jump right into questions.

Q Can you talk a little bit about the White House response to these sabotage attacks in Iraq on the oil pipelines and the water supply? It looks like a new tactic for the folks who are working against our troops there. How do you guys plan to deal with this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a reminder of what we've talked about all along, that as we continue to make progress and achieve successes, as we move to a free and democratic Iraq, there will be those remanents of the former regime and foreign terrorists who are enemies of the Iraqi people that will continue to seek to carry out attacks.

And we are on the offensive. We are going after those remnants of the former regime. We are going after those foreign terrorists. This are people that seek to prevent the Iraqi people from having a brighter future, from having a future that is free and democratic, from having an Iraq that is governed by the Iraqi people. And we will continue to aggressively pursue those killers.

Q -- are becoming more and more successful, and they're changing their tactics. How is the White House and the administration going to deal with this and really confront it, stop it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our men and women in the armed forces are going to continue to stay on the offensive. Our troops are going after these remnants. They're going after these foreign terrorists and finding them. And they will continue to do that and defeat them wherever they may be. But these are enemies of the Iraqi people. They are enemies of a brighter future for the people of Iraq. But they will be defeated.

Q Scott, let me ask you about -- a little bit more on the blackouts. What is the President's position on changing the regulatory environment for a lot of utilities across the country? Does he think that federal regulators should play, as Pat Wood suggested over the weekend, a kind of "air traffic controller" role to make sure that the feds have the most complete picture as possible over transmission and delivery?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President believes strongly that we need a comprehensive solution, not patchwork crisis management. This is just today's crisis. We don't know what tomorrow's crisis will be. So we need to proceed forward with a comprehensive solution. And I would remind you that more than two years ago, the President outlined a comprehensive energy strategy and a comprehensive energy plan to strengthen our economic security, to strengthen our national security. It's a plan that reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy, it modernizes our outdated, antiquated electrical delivery system, it expands conservation, increases energy efficiency and diversifies our supply of energy by use of new technologies -- or promoting use of new technologies to explore in an environmentally friendly way.

That was all detailed in the National Energy Policy report that was 171 pages long, containing 105 recomendations. We've already administratively implemented about 90 of those recommendations. The rest of those proposals do require congressional action. But there was an entire chapter in that energy report called America's Energy Infastructure. And it talks about the need to modernize the electricity grid and our electric delivery system.

And what's most important right now is that we move forward to act on mandatory and enforceable reliabilty standards, that we move forward to upgrade and expand our transmission capacity. We need to improve our infastructure to meet the demand that continues to increase.

But specifically to what you were talking about, we do believe that regional management is an important issue. We've been working to encourage parcitipation in regional organizations, regional transmission organizations. That's something that's already occuring at this point.

Q But isn't that part of the problem, that it's on a regional basis and not a national basis? Isn't what we're talking about, the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're talking about the regional transmission organizations, which is one thing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been talking about. And that's what -- there's some timing issues and there's some issues of regional concerns that are still beging worked on. And we want to work -- continue to work with Congress on these issues. But what's most important is that Congress act and get an energy plan -- a comprehensive energy plan enacted.

Q But isn't it imperative for the federal government to put more pressure on the biggest energy producers in the country, the biggest utilities in the country, to say that deregulation and the kind of -- a less centralized approach is no longer tolerable?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and that's why I was talking about -- specifically, let me go back through -- that's why I talked about mandatory reliability standards, standards that are enforceable, standards where we can hold people accountable if they don't comply with those standards.

We've outlined in the President's proposal, that he put forward more than two years ago, expediting siting of transmission facilities in interstate conjestion areas. We're promoting -- the plan promotes investment in transmission infastructure. The plan provides incentives for more efficient and advanced transmission technologies and improving siting of transmission facilities on federal lands. So we've got these proposals and that's what we're moving forward on.

Q Scott, if I could just follow, the Democrats are saying that the controversial proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is holding up passing the energy policy. If the President gets a bill on his desk that does not include that provision, would he veto the legislation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, first of all, that suggestion is just ridiculous. I mean are these the same people --

First of all, Suzanne, in response to your question, I think it's ridiculous. Are these the -- same people that are pointing fingers, saying that if that one provision is taken out, that they will now support a comprehensive energy plan, as outlined by the President? Of course not. I think that what you're seeing is political posturing. The President is focused on seeking solutions.

And as I mentioned a minute ago, we need comprehensive solutions, not patchwork crisis management. We are now in today's crisis. We don't know what tomorrow's crisis is going to be. But leadership is about acting to address big challenges in a comprehensive way. It's not about shirking responsibility and governing crisis by crisis. And so I think it's ridiculous. And that's just political posturing.

Q So you're saying it has to be included in the bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we're pursuing is a comprehensive energy plan that will address -- that will solve the problems that are before us, that will address the challeneges that we face. This is just the latest crisis regarding our energy infrastructure and regarding our nation's energy supply.

Q So it was taken out of the bill. Would the President veto the policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue to work with Congress and get the most comprehensive energy plan we can passed.

Q Scott, your estimate to modernize or upgrade these transmission lines or grids is as high as $100 billion. Who does the President believe should pay for this? The utilities are resisting that kind of cost.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President believes the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of -- that could be born over the long-term, that the cost of enacting -- the cost of not acting on this comprehensive plan is far greater, and we're focused on solving this problem, we're focused on moving forward to address these issues before the next crisis happens so that we can prevent crisis from happening -- crises from happening in the future. That's what we're focused on.

Q But it's a lot of money, Scott. Someone has got to pay for it. I mean, should the consumers, the taxpayers --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what we're going to work to address. I don't know what the ultimate costs are at this point. But the cost of not acting, I know, is far greater.

Q Scott, to go back to that FERC proposal, just for a moment, that regulatory proposal. So are you saying -- you mentioned there are some timing issues. Are you saying that the administration does want to put that on hold as has been reported?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what I'm saying is that there's some timing issues and that there's some issues relating to regional concerns that need to be addressed. And we're working on that, we're working with Congress. And what I'm also pointing out is that we're already acting on these regional management issues. Those things -- those are already moving forward. We're already encouraging participation in regional transmission organizations.

Q Is it true that the administration would not like to see that move forward at this point because it could jeopardize --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just said that we're already moving forward on regional transmission organizations. You're getting into issues of timing about mandatory versus voluntary. You're getting into issues about regional concerns. Those are issues we're working to address. Those are issues we're working with Congress to address, as well.

Q But what do you mean, though, by that, the timing issues? The question is whether they're mandatory or voluntary, and the program calls for them to be mandatory. Does the administration support that or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, what we support, and what we think is most important, is to have mandatory reliability standards that are enforceable. That's one of the most important things that we can do to address the current situation.

And so that's what we're moving -- that's what we're moving forward on. But we're going to continue to work with Congress, and there's some different provisions in the House-passed version versus the Senate-passed version.

But we're already encouraging participation in regional transmission organizations. And that's the point I think it's important to make. And then there's some timing issues that need to be addressed. There's some regional concerns that need to be addressed. And state concerns that need to be addressed as we move forward.

But the President is firmly committed, as he has been since he took office, to passing and implementing a comprehensive energy plan that will address these issues.

Q But what is the timing issue that you think is holding things up?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've just addressed it.

Q No you haven't.

Q Scott, al Qaeda is reporting that al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the blackouts.

MR. McCLELLAN: There is, still, absolutely no indication that this is -- relates to terrorism.

Q Scott, was the Secretary -- Secretary Abraham able to give the President any preliminary rundown on what the latest is -- the assessment of what caused Thursday's blackouts?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, Mark, I want to avoid getting into any speculation about what the cause may be. We still do not know the cause. That has not been determined. It is important to move forward as quickly as possible in a thorough way to determine the cause so that we can look for solutions, so that we can seek the best possible solutions, so that this doesn't happen in the future.

Q And when you speak of mandatory reliability standards that are enforceable, can you explain what that means?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that people will have to meet these mandatory standards, people will have to comply with those standards, and if they don't, then we will go after them. I think that some of the legislation calls for some fines for failing to comply with those reliability standards.

But I think right now you have some voluntary standards in place, but I think it's not strong enough to where we can go after people that aren't meeting those standards. So he wants improved reliability so that situations like this can be -- we can do a better job of preventing cascading outages and preventing blackouts like we saw over the last week.

Q And the standards would be enforced on utilities?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, enforced on those that have to comply

to meet those standards.

Q Scott, on Libya, it looks like the U.N. is -- may lift sanctions. What does the U.S. want before it lifts its unilateral sanctions? And would that include the departure of Ghadafi?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have -- you bring up, the U.N. is expected to move forward soon. Libya has met the requirements of accepting responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing, and that was important that they accept that responsibility. They have sent a letter to the United Nations to that effect. The United Nations, I expect, will move forward soon on a resolution. And we've sent a letter, as well, saying that we will not oppose the lifting of U.N. sanctions.

But when you get to sanctions by -- the bilateral sanctions, our United States sanctions will remain in place because we still have a number of serious concerns when it comes to Libya, most notably, their continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their continued participation in regional conflicts in Africa that have been very destructive and unhelpful. Libya continues to have a poor human rights record. So there are a number of concerns we still have. And we have no intention of lifting the U.S. sanctions.

Q Would it take the departure of Colonel Ghadafi to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they need to address the concerns I just outlined is what our position is, before we consider any lifting of U.S. sanctions. But there are still a number of serious concerns we have with regard to Libya.

Q Scott, do you have any -- are there plans for U.S. military exercises off of Australia that would be seen as enforcing this plan to prevent North Korea from exporting weapons?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're getting into the Proliferation Security Initiative that the President outlined in May of this year. And this initiative is aimed at combatting proliferation or spread of weapons of mass destruction. And we're working -- we already have 11 nations that are participating in this. This is a partnership, a cooperative effort with countries all across the world to counter proliferation.

And certainly, when it comes to North Korea, they are probably the most serious proliferator of missiles and related technologies. And so the specific exercise you're talking about, those are exercises that we said would be carried out in partnership with other nations to prepare -- to make sure that we are better prepared to interdict operations that involve proliferation. But this is part of the exercises related to the Proliferation Security Initiative. That's what this is.

Q Are you concerned that this may seem threatening, coming ahead of talks that you have?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a serious concern. It is something that we are moving forward on in partnership with other countries committed to eliminating that threat or reducing that threat. I do not view it in the way you do. I view it in the way of moving forward on the President's plan that he outlined in May. It's a serious matter. It's a serious concern. It involves our nation's security. It involves global security, and we're moving forward on it. And these exercises are meant to prepare -- better prepare us to conduct sea, air, and ground interdiction operations.

All right?

Q Scott?


Q It's a hair early, but could you tell us how the President plans to mark the second anniversary of the September 11th attacks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry. No, I'll try to update you as we get closer. This is a little bit early to get into that.

Q One last. Is there any chance that the President might travel this week or do an event related to the blackout, that he might travel to the affected region?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the schedule remains the same, as it is, as it's already outlined at this point. Obviously, if there are any updates to his schedule in Crawford, we'll do that. We'll announce that at the appropriate time. Nothing to update you on at this point.

Q The announcement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. September 7th, Sunday, back at the White House is --

Q Tee ball.

MR. McCLELLAN: Ding, ding, ding. I'm pleased to announce that the next White House tee ball game will be held on Sunday, September the 7th. The President will host tee ball teams from the Milwood Little League of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Hamilton Little Lads Cal Ripken League -- this is a division of the Babe Ruth League -- of Hamilton, New Jersey. The players range in age from four to seven years old, include both girls and boys from those areas.

This game also will honor the legacy of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the women's baseball league that was founded during World War II. The game will precede the 60th Anniversary Reunion of the league that's to be held later that week in New York.

And so, we're honoring those players for their accomplishments on the field and their historic role in advancing women's sports.

And that's all I have. Thank you everybody.

END 12:25 P.M. CDT