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Public Papers - 1989 - October

Remarks to Members of the Natural Gas Supply Association

1989-10-19

I want to salute my collaborators in our administration, Jim Watkins and Bill Reilly and Boyden Gray -- well-known to everybody here, I am sure -- and of course our own leaders of the association, Jim and Nick. And I see many suspects lined up, mostly on the front row here. [Laughter] I'm glad to see all of you, and welcome.

Years ago, this industry -- I was going to say ``yours,'' but as one who had a tiny interest in gas wells years ago, ``ours,'' -- added an agent to natural gas that gave it a characteristic scent. And that was so that if there ever was a leak in someone's house, they'd have a better chance of detecting the leak. It doesn't work that way in the White House -- [laughter] -- so I would ask for your technological assistance.

About a year ago -- over a year ago -- I spoke to a group at Midland. And I said that I was proud that our administration had decontrolled oil prices, but that we hadn't yet been able to prevail in Congress to decontrol natural gas. Well, you know what happened. And everybody here were movers and shakers in seeing that the Congress took that long-overdue action, and the wisdom of the marketplace prevailed. After decades, literally, of some very shrill disagreements, we were able to eliminate an entire system of artificial price controls for one of America's cleanest energy sources. And that was this administration's first major energy initiative, and in my view, it was a very good one -- good for developing domestic energy resources that are absolutely essential to our national security.

I hope that I'll be a President that can move world peace forward; I feel very strongly about it. But I'm going to keep my eyes open. I don't like the ever-increasing dependency on foreign sources of energy; I don't think it is good. And I know our Secretary, who is taking a comprehensive look at a national energy policy, agrees that we've got to become less dependent. And that means not only more hydrocarbons but it also means a safe, sound use of other energy sources. I salute Jim for his persevering in the face of a lot of criticism in terms of the nuclear field, for example. We need multisources.

And certainly we are not going to turn our back on natural gas, which has such enormous promise for the future. I say that the initiative was a good one because I think it was good for, as I mentioned, developing domestic sources. It was good for consumers who were going to enjoy reliable energy at reasonable prices over the longer run. It was good for Bill Reilly's pet rock, which is the environment, and he and Boyden have worked very closely on this with the Secretary. And it is very good for that because it can only benefit from the broader use of clean-burning natural gas.

Some of you were there in the East Room when we signed the legislation decontrolling natural gas -- the Natural Gas Wellhead Decontrol Act. But again, I see others that might not have been there. And I just want to thank all of you for your efforts on it, because I think by what we did -- and I use that term purposely here -- was to build diversity, flexibility, economy, and security into the energy picture.

Natural gas is going to be -- I see no way that it can continue to be anything other than vital to our domestic energy security. With growing difficulties in oil and gas leasing and difficulties in siting nuclear plants, we're going to depend more than ever, as I say, on balanced energy sources. In addition to decontrolling it -- the wellhead -- it's also going to demand that we pave the way for a broader use of natural gas, and I expect you'll be hearing about that in a minute.

As you know, I sent a bill to rewrite our Federal Clean Air Act to Capitol Hill. And I want to be sure everybody here understands it, because I understand that there's some controversy about that. But today there is some good news: The bill has been reported out of subcommittee relatively intact. And that's the first time the subcommittee has produced a bill in several years. It's good news for clean-burning fuels, and it's good news for cleaner air.

Even those who may be off in a different branch of the hydrocarbon business -- we need their support in getting behind an idea which whose time has come, and that is clean air for our most heavily impacted cities. We've got to work together -- not just with the natural gas but with the oil sections of our hydrocarbon business -- to clean up our environment. We set a tough standard for air pollution in this bill, and we don't care which fuel can meet it as long as it's met. We support harnessing the power of the marketplace in the service of the environment.

So, I want to thank you and Bill Reilly and his EPA staff for all the hard work that you've done so far. And now let's double our efforts and try to get a bill as soon as possible so the American people can start the nineties as the ``clean air decade.''

You know, I think in the political arena for too long environmental matters were seen as the property of one political philosophy, or one political party, maybe. And that isn't the way it ought to be. It transcends political ideology, and it transcends political party -- the need to protect our environment. So, here we go on a specific, and I'd love to have your support as we push to make the nineties the ``clean air decade.''

No question that your industry is going to be in the forefront, a vital part of this picture -- not, obviously, as the sole solution, as I've said, but as a part of this comprehensive strategy. I always think of the natural gas business as future-oriented. You understand that we can't wait for the next energy crisis and that a secure future demands that we plan now. And that's why Jim is engaged in this coming up with a comprehensive national energy strategy for the Nation. For that to succeed, it's obviously going to have to be bipartisan. There's no question about it; it is going to have to be. I guess that responsibility falls on the four of us and others in our administration to see that we conduct ourselves in a manner that attracts broad support.

In the coming months, we're going to need your guidance, and we're going to need your thoughts on all of this. We do not claim to have all the answers. We've got a general direction in mind, which as I say will encourage in every way possible the use of clean-burning fuels, but we need your help and guidance.

With gas prices set by market forces and new technologies offering new uses for this fuel, natural gas is on the verge of reaching its fullest potential as an economic, clean, efficient source of energy. So, I came over here to thank you very much for the way in which you've worked with us. I have not detected a change in your frankness -- [laughter] -- something that I've learned from in all my political life and hopefully was a part of when I was in the drilling business, a modest factor in the producing business. Oil and gas people are known for their forthright way of expressing themselves, and I haven't seen that change any, nor do I suggest that it change. But we need your help, and we need your advice.

And I am absolutely determined that when I leave office I'm going to leave it with a strong energy base so we're less dependent on foreign sources. And I'm equally determined that when I leave office I'm going to at least be able to say that, working with others, we have done something to contribute to our precious environment. And the two objectives need not be contradictory. So, to achieve these two ends, I look forward to working with you, and I'm grateful for what you have already done.

And now I will get out of the way and let you hear from the experts. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins; William K. Reilly, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President; James A. Middleton and Nicholas J. Bush, chairman and president of the Natural Gas Supply Association, respectively.

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