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Public Papers - 1991 - October

Teleconference Remarks With the American Gas Association


The President. Mike, thank you very much, and thank you for those goods words. And may I salute your chairman, Bill McCormick, the incoming chairman, Dick Farman. And I am delighted to be able to join you by satellite in San Diego at the 73d annual conference of the American Gas Association.

I'd like to talk to you today about our energy future, about America's energy future: The indispensable foundation for the goods we produce, the enterprises we launch, and the quality of life we enjoy. When our administration developed our national energy strategy, three principles guided our policy making: reducing our dependence on foreign oil, protecting our environment, and promoting economic growth. As a part of our comprehensive energy strategy, natural gas is key to all three.

First, decreasing our dependence on insecure energy supplies is a top priority of this administration. We're willing to practice what we preach. In April of this year, I took action to put the Federal Government in the lead on increasing energy efficiency by issuing an Executive order that calls for sharp reductions in Federal energy use. Under this new mandate, overall Federal energy consumption will be reduced by 20 percent from 1985 levels within a decade. Fuel consumption in the Federal fleet will be pared by 10 percent from current levels within 4 years, and the Federal Government will increase its purchases of vehicles powered by alternative fuels like compressed natural gas.

Contrary to gloomy predictions of the seventies, when misguided Federal regulation created natural gas shortages, we are blessed now with abundant supplies of natural gas within our own borders. In fact, the Department of Energy recently reported a 113 percent replacement of reserves for 1990 in the lower 48, the lower 48 States. To assure that supplies of natural gas remain ample, we must rely on the logic of the marketplace. And that is why in 1989 we enacted a law phasing out the last Federal wellhead price controls on natural gas so that the free market could do its work.

Second, we're committed to preserving and protecting the environment. No question about that. We looked to the ingenuity of the free market as we worked to defend our precious environment through enactment of the Clean Air Act Amendments. The AGA was one of the first major trade groups to endorse our administration's proposal for clean air legislation. And I am very grateful, and I thank you for that effort. As clean-burning natural gas is put to work in generating electricity, for fueling vehicles, cooling and heating, and supplying the needs of the industry, Americans know that the environment stands to benefit.

And third, energy security and environmental protection must go hand-in-hand with economic growth. And that growth depends upon opening new markets and new opportunities for American industry. A North American free trade agreement will promote economic growth throughout this continent. Your industry knows what I am talking about. The northern tier of Mexico is the largest single export market for U.S. natural gas, and with this agreement we are looking forward to continued growth and opportunity.

Economic growth also depends upon an educated work force. America's natural gas producers, companies, and utilities are doing a great deal to make their communities places where learning can happen. Your Education 2000 program, a 10-year, industrywide commitment to helping our Nation reform its schools, is a great example of the partnerships necessary to invent a new generation of American schools. I urge you and all of your members to continue to engage in the education reform movement so that we can prepare American children to compete and win in the global marketplace.

Economic growth, environmental protection, energy security, and a well-prepared work force are crucial to America's success in the next century. As part of the fabric of daily life in America, your companies and employees can make a real difference. In many ways you already are, and for that, I thank you.

I wish you a successful conference and best wishes in the coming year. And now I'll be glad to take a few questions.

Mr. Baly. Mr. President, our chairman, Bill McCormick has a question for you.

Mr. McCormick. Mr. President, we praise you for your leadership in the Clean Air Act Amendments passed by the Congress last year, and we were pleased to support the administration's goals in the act. We also appreciate your work toward enactment of the national energy strategy that you proposed earlier this year. AGA has been supportive of this initiative since the outset. The Senate looks like it will begin debate soon on the NES, and we wanted to know how you foresee the debate shaping up and your administration's role as the debate unfolds?

The President. Bill, as I said earlier, securing a clean and affordable energy future is a very important objective of our entire administration. And that is why I am supporting this bipartisan energy bill, S. 1220 to the technocrats there, that should go before the Senate very soon. This bill incorporates many important principles of this national energy strategy of ours.

During the Senate's deliberations on this bill, we are going to be working very closely with Senators Bennett Johnston, well-known to all of you there, Malcolm Wallop, the same, to ensure that our key provisions remain intact. In keeping with our goal of increased domestic energy production, I remain committed to providing environmentally responsible energy development in ANWR, in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. And I want to avoid the crippling effects of excessive CAFE standards because we cannot sacrifice public safety and jobs all in the name of fuel efficiency mandates.

We need your industry's help in getting a good bill on my desk. We are expecting some very tough votes, but I am confident that the American people will understand the importance of enacting a comprehensive, balanced energy bill. And let me add, I'm very comforted by the fact that our national security requirements are clearer now and that the threat is less difficult. But I do not want to see us increasingly dependent on foreign sources of energy. And I want to see drilling in this country continue. It can be done in an environmentally sound way, and I think everybody in your audience there knows that we must continue to drill and produce in this country. We'll do our best, though, to get this energy bill passed.

That's it.

Mr. Baly. Mr. President, our chairman-elect, Dick Farman has a question.

The President. Shoot, Dick.

Mr. Farman. Mr. President, in your remarks, you mentioned AGA's Education 2000 program, and we're all looking forward to hearing later in today's meeting from Gregg Petersmeyer on your administration's national service efforts. Would you care to comment on what other domestic initiatives your administration is currently working on or has plans to introduce this year?

The President. Well, Dick, thank you, and I'm glad Gregg Petersmeyer will be there -- he's been made famous by ``Doonesbury,'' if any of you inflict that upon yourselves, reading that cartoon -- because Gregg has done a great job on this Points of Light principle that we believe in and that your association believes in with your own approach to education. So, I'm delighted that Gregg will be out there with you.

But look, on the domestic agenda, we've advanced a broad, aggressive domestic agenda over the last 2 years. It's included such legislative successes as the Clean Air Act Amendments; the ADA, that's the Americans with Disabilities Act, a sweeping piece of civil rights legislation; our child care bill, one that gives choice to parents; and our HOPE bill, that's H - O - P - E, our housing bill that promotes tenant management and ownership of public housing. And we've already mentioned our America 2000 education initiative, touched on this national energy strategy of ours. And Congress, right now, is considering provisions of the administration's crime bill.

We've sent up two crime bills since 1989, and we're just now seeing action on the key provisions. Some of you may remember that I challenged the Congress to complete action on two bills, that crime bill and our transportation bill, in 100 days. That was back at the time of the State of the Union, I believe. And incidentally, the transportation bill is a bill that would stimulate a sluggish economy. It's job intensive, and it would do that, stimulate, without busting the budget agreement, without increasing our Federal deficit. But here we are, almost 8 months later, still waiting for both.

We now have a civil rights bill that I can certify to the American people is not a quota bill. It is fair, and it's good. And just last week, I signed an Executive order to enact reforms in our civil justice system. I hope some of you saw that.

We need liability reform. We need to check the reckless use of lawsuits and the propensity for more and more outrageous settlements. We'll be sending legislation to the Congress on that very, very soon. And there is one area where you all weighing in can really get something done.

But most importantly, we have offered numerous economic reform proposals which, if they had been enacted by Congress, would have long ago promoted the economic growth that America needs. I am sure some of you are sick of hearing this, but I have proposed a capital gains cut that would in my view create more jobs and create them soon. We've proposed penalty-free withdrawals from these IRA's for first-time homebuyers. Clearly, that would stimulate or would have stimulated the housing market. I've proposed more Federal funds for research and development, a little longer range but very, very important. Your industry knows this. I've proposed enterprise zones to stimulate our hardest-hit urban areas. It's not going to cost the taxpayer. It will eventually mean money to the Treasury because you get those new businesses started in those areas. And then the transportation bill that I just mentioned, and incentives for increased savings and investment.

Throughout the coming legislative year, we will fight tooth and nail for economic growth, opportunity, and jobs. And I will fight against legislation that will bust the budget agreement and further burden the young people of this country with more and more debt, with bigger and bigger Federal deficits.

Now, and I realize that this only is a thumbnail sketch of our agenda, but I hope I have responded to your question. And I know there is a lot to be done. I am not relaxed about the economy, but I am not going to jump in and take steps out of some Congressional panic that might make the situation worse or might burden future generations of America more.

So, thank you very much for asking the question, and thanks for the opportunity to be out there with you today in this unique way. It works well from our standpoint, and I hope it came through loud and clear over there. But over and out, and many thanks.

Note: The President spoke at 12:09 p.m. from Room 459 in the Old Executive Office Building to the 73d annual conference of the American Gas Association, meeting in San Diego, CA. Michael Baly III, president of the AGA, served as moderator for the teleconference. In his remarks, the President referred to C. Gregg Petersmeyer, Assistant to the President, Office of National Service. The President also referred to Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] standards for automobiles and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR].

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