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Ari Fleischer Holds Daily White House Press Briefing

Aired March 19, 2001 - 12:43 p.m. ET



The White House has just begun its daily briefing. Ari Fleischer is at the microphone so we're going to listen in for a moment.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... the president shares the concerns of the American people that we don't have enough domestic supply of energy and that prices are too high, and they're causing a lot of pain for American consumers. So the president is troubled by what's happening on the energy front, and he intends to offer a plan, a national, comprehensive energy plan that can help to produce domestic supplies of energy again.

QUESTION: Ari, the energy secretary said this morning that we've got a huge supply shortage -- this was going to be his message today -- over the next 20 years that we need to address. Is this a way of paving the way for exploration in places like ANWR, by the policy of finding it out?

FLEISCHER: Well, let me give you some facts about the situation with the United States involving energy, as we speak. The demand for oil is projected to grow one-third by 2020. The demand is up; domestic production of oil continues to drop precipitously. We produce 39 percent less oil today than we did in 1970 just prior to the energy crisis of '73. By 2020, under current projections, we'll only produce approximately half of what we produced in 1970. We are more reliant on foreign oil than ever before.

In 1973, we imported 36 percent of our oil. Today we import 57 percent of our oil. And unless we produce more domestically, it's projected that by 2020, imports will go to 64 percent.

Not one new refinery has been built in the United States in over 25 years. In fact, since 1980 the number of refineries has been cut in half.

And everywhere you look across the energy grid, we face problems in this country of antiquated grids, inadequate delivery systems and a regulatory scheme that has prohibited the production of domestic energy to meet the domestic demand.

And that's why the president is going to focus very strongly on how to increase America's ability to produce energy so we can meet our growing needs.

One final point: Certainly, economic growth, which is something all Americans support, and the Internet economy run on electricity. You can't flip on your PC and not have energy and electricity to power it. And the more we are an economy that's dependent on the Internet and the new economy, which is a source of great strength for our country, the more reliant we'll be on energy, all the more buttressing the president's contention that we need to develop America's domestic energy supplies.

QUESTION: Increasing domestic supply is a long-term solution. During the campaign, the president promised the American people that he would work with our allies in OPEC to ensure that they would restrain themselves in terms of price increases. And over the weekend, OPEC cut production by a substantial 1 million barrels a day. Why did he fail? And what's he going to do about it?

FLEISCHER: We will continue to work with OPEC and other allies on the question of stable production of supplies. It's a long-term effort. And the president will continue to view it as a long-term matter. The actions taken this weekend were disappointing, but that won't stop the president from continuing the outreach, to talk to our allies, to talk to our friends, and working toward a long-term approach so that the supplies are stable.

QUESTION: What about the short term? Was what OPEC did this weekend a direct rebuff to overtures that the administration had made?

FLEISCHER: It was a disappointment.

QUESTION: What did the United States do in advance of the OPEC meeting? Were there communications...

FLEISCHER: There were communications. They were handled by the secretary of energy.

And I think it's also a reflection of something that the president has talked about domestically, that we've spent quite a bit of time talking about, which was OPEC took this action because they view economic growth slowing down around the world. And the president is concerned about economic growth slowing down, which ties back in to his domestic policies to make sure that we produce energy so we don't have further contractions in domestic growth.

QUESTION: Is that what the energy secretary told OPEC officials? What was the substance of the communication?

FLEISCHER: He stressed how we are interrelated, our economies are interrelated, and that any actions that could lead to further global downturns would not be in the long-term mutual interests of our allies and, of course, the United States.

QUESTION: During the campaign, then-Governor Bush said that he would use his clout -- he said he would bring to the table, as president -- to open the spigot. Is it now fair to include, based on OPEC's actions this weekend, that the president is no better at dealing with OPEC than was the previous administration he criticized so much for...

FLEISCHER: Again, the OPEC actions are a disappointment. The president will continue to work with our OPEC allies, focusing on the long term. But there's no getting around it: Their actions over the weekend were a disappointment.

QUESTION: Did he over-promise to the voters of this country his ability to deal with OPEC in way different than the previous administration?

FLEISCHER: I think when it comes to domestic and to energy issues, both increasing domestic supply, as the president had he would, and carrying on long-term relations with out allies, including OPEC, he needs to be judged long term. I don't think it's fair to have an immediate snapshot evaluation. In that sense, as I indicated, was a disappointment.

But there's a long-term way to measure whether or not the United States is becoming less reliant on foreign supplies of oil, while maintaining stability from the OPEC producers.

QUESTION: If jawboning OPEC isn't the solution, if that doesn't work, then what can the president do alleviate the problem in the short term?

FLEISCHER: The answer is to have a policy that focuses, for the most part, on the long term. One of the reasons that we have the problem that we have today is because nobody focused on the long term five and 10 years ago.

If our government's policies had been to focus on the long term earlier, we would not be confronted with the short-term crisis. And that's one of the most common criticisms you hear of Washington, is that people are so focused on the short term they don't do what's right long-term.

And that's one of those reasons you see no refineries that have been built in the country for 25 years, as I mentioned. That's a sign of a long-term problem.

But the president wants to make certain that, five years, 10 years, 15 years down the road, whoever succeeds him in office is able to look back and say they took the right steps early in the 21st century so our nation is not in a crisis once again.

QUESTION: But that means you can't do anything. You are saying there is nothing to be done, then, in the short term?

FLEISCHER: The most important steps will be -- and that's one of the reasons the president has this meeting this afternoon -- is to focus on what we can do to have a broad energy strategy. And that's where the president's focus will be.

In the short term, of course, we did work with California, and Governor Davis, as you know, expresses appreciation to the president for the decision the president made short-term, to expedite permitting for facilities out in California. And that was well-received and was helpful to California.

ALLEN: White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer taking many questions about energy and what the administration plans to do about the energy problem. The administration says it's going to announce a very comprehensive energy plan in the next few weeks. Part of that is to rely less on foreign oil and more on domestic production. That's controversial, as well, because that would mean the administration wants to drill in Alaska.

Also, Ari Fleischer saying that the administration is disappointed OPEC this weekend cut production by a million barrels a day. During the campaign Mr. Bush had signaled that he would be able to work very successfully with OPEC. As you heard Ari Fleischer, remaining very positive, saying that will happen in the future as this administration presses on.

We'll continue to flesh out the story throughout the day.



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