Transcript of Speaker Pelosi, House Democrats’ Press Briefing at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen
December 17, 2009
Copenhagen – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, and Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Chairman Edward Markey held a press briefing at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark today. At the UN Climate Conference, the bipartisan delegation led by Speaker Pelosi will meet with representatives from key countries involved in the negotiations and also with advocacy and business leaders to discuss job creation. Below is a transcript of the press briefing:
Majority Leader Hoyer. My name is Steny Hoyer. I’m the Majority Leader in the United States House of Representatives, but I have been chosen to lead off because my father was born in Copenhagen, so I am one of the Congress’s leading Danes. And I am so pleased to be here. I was here in May. There was great excitement about the legislation that had been enacted in the latter part of May through the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. That legislation passed in June on the issue of energy independence and global warming. I am accompanied, of course, by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is the principal legislator in our country, third in line to the presidency of the United States, who herself has been a real leader both in our country and internationally in the issue of global warming and addressing the challenge that global warming confronts us with.
We are here in place that was 99 percent dependent on foreign oil at the time of the 1973 embargo. In 1976, the Danish public supported a massive effort to transform energy in Denmark with efficiency – direct heating, wind power, more than 20 percent over the last 30 years even though modernization, population growth, energy demand has remained constant. We have in place – we have worked so hard for a sustainable future.
I now want to recognize the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi of the state of California. Speaker Pelosi.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. Leader. Congratulations on your Danish heritage. We all, on behalf of the Congress of the United States, want to express our appreciation to the Danish government, for the leadership role it has played in this important conference and for the hospitality extended to all of us. It is an issue that is the greatest challenge to our generation. It is appropriate that we are in a country, as Mr. Hoyer said, has had its own experience and had positive outcome.
When I became Speaker of the House, I made the issue of the climate crisis and energy independence for our country to be the flagship issue of my speakership. With us today our select committee on climate change and energy independence, chaired by Mr. Ed Markey. Working with the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, the two of them put forth legislation which is leadership legislation – we are very proud of it. It even received bipartisan support. It is important for all of you to know that Waxman is not Mr. Markey’s first name, and Markey is not Mr. Waxman’s last name.
They are great leaders in the Congress, and I want to focus on what they have done because of their leadership, we are able to come here equipped already with a bill passing the House of Representatives with the Senate, as you have heard before from Senator Kerry and others, fully prepared to proceed. We are in a better position to do this now, even though we have had the leadership majority for three years because we have a Democratic President — President Obama, who is committed to making a difference, having America listen, learn, and lead on this issue.
I want to acknowledge other members of our delegation who are here. Seated at the table you will hear from Mr. Markey, Mr. Waxman, you heard from Mr. Hoyer and from me, the Chair of our Policy Committee, Congressman George Miller of California, Chair of our Science and Technology Committee, Chairman Bart Gordon of Tennessee, the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee — a very distinguished, very senior Member of the House of Representatives — Charlie Rangel. Also in our delegation is Congressman Blumenauer of Oregon, Congresswoman DeGette of Colorado, Congressman Levin of Michigan, Congressman Ryan of Ohio, Congressman Butterfield from North Carolina, Congressman Cleaver from Missouri, Congresswoman Giffords from Arizona. We also have six Republican Members who are a part of our delegation as well, so it is a strong bipartisan delegation which should indicate the priority that we place on this issue, the respect that we have for the proceedings that are here, and the appreciation that we have for the leadership role that our President is playing.
We salute the announcement that Secretary Clinton made earlier today, because of earlier work of Waxman-Markey, we are fully prepared to be able to meet that commitment of the United States that was announced by the Secretary because of the groundwork they have already done in their legislation. I just want to acknowledge Susan Blumenthal who is with us, wife of Ed Markey, but a leader in health issues in her own right in our country. My own husband Paul Pelosi, Mark Kelly who is here has been with Gabby Giffords, an astronaut — a bonafide American hero.
We come here as Members of Congress, as leaders of Congress, as people who are concerned about the next generation. We consider the climate change issue a national security issue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, an economic issue. We come here about one word: it’s about jobs. It’s about jobs that are sustainable for the future. New jobs, new technology, new green jobs for a green revolution to follow the industrial revolution of 100 years or longer ago, over 100 years ago the technological revolution of the last century and now this green revolution. Central to our policy on this, and helping us meet this great challenge of our generation was the Waxman-Markey legislation.
I want to yield to the distinguished Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee for his remarks.
Chairman Waxman. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker and Leader Hoyer. I am pleased to be part of your delegation here at this conference. This is a very important meeting that is taking place, bringing representatives from all over the world to tackle an issue that will affect the whole world. We must see progress and move forward together. It is rare in history that different countries agree to work together rather than work against each other, but we are all faced with a common problem and we must act.
This is also important for the United States and for our efforts. The legislation that we passed in the House is sitting in the Senate and Americans are going to ask: what are other countries going to do? How are they going to be part of the effort that we are seeking to undertake in the United States? Now we are not acting based on other countries acting, even though we are concerned about how much they do. We are acting in the interests of the United States to wean ourselves off our dependence on foreign oil — which is a national security matter — to produce more jobs as the Speaker indicated, and to do our part to reduce carbon emissions.
I was heartened by the remarks of Secretary of State Clinton and the response to her remarks. It indicated that the United States has put on the table at this conference a very important effort to recognize the needs of other countries in the world, especially the developing countries. We only have a short period of time left at this conference. I know that negotiators are meeting and various countries are trying to evaluate how we move forward and what is possible. Let me just underscore that not only are the people from your countries looking to see the success of the conference in Copenhagen, but in the United States as well. We must act together and we must have the leadership in the International community to help us accomplish those goals. I am now very pleased to yield to the man who is not my last name, but who has been the champion of the efforts to deal with global warming as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Global Warming and the Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee that I chair, and my co-author of the legislation.
Chairman Markey. Thank you, Henry, so much. We thank all of you for being here and for the tens of thousands of others who have come to Copenhagen.
The planet is running a fever. There are no emergency rooms for planets. We must find a way of putting in place the preventative measures that will protect the planet and the people who live on it against the most catastrophic consequences of this dangerously warming planet. That is why the Speaker created a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming three years ago. That is why Mr. Waxman and I, working with the Speaker, beginning in January this year once President Obama was sworn in, made it the first piece of major legislation passed through the Congress of June of 2009. But it didn’t really begin there. It began when Speaker Pelosi took over three years ago. So far in the last three years, we have increased the fuel economy standards of vehicles which we will drive in the United States from 25 to 35 miles per gallon, by the year 2016. We have changed the direction of our biofuels policy towards billions of gallons of cellulosic fuel. Tough new standards for appliances for buildings are the gold standard we have now set for our country. It is comprehensive. It is across the board.
Within the Waxman-Markey bill, Mr. Waxman and I, working with the Speaker and the other Members of Congress, we worked very hard to put in the funding for international deforestation efforts. The money for international adaptation efforts. The money that would ensure that offset programs, that would ensure that across the world, the United States would be participating in creating incentives for new ways to deal with the way in which guards of land are treated. So all of this is part of the legislation.
And that legislation makes it possible for us to meet the commitments which Secretary Clinton made today in Copenhagen. And combined with private sector efforts which will also be unleashed because much of what we are proposing in the United States will be market based. It is going to be something that creates a technological revolution, that will make it possible for us to say to the rest of the world: “We want to work with you, we want to partner with you because the alternative is unacceptable.” Otherwise we will, rather than helping, we will be hurting each other on the planet. And that is something which we cannot contemplate by the year 2050.
Our goal is to work with the world in order to make it possible that children will have to look to history books to find if there ever was such a thing as global warming. We think we can accomplish that if we work together — if every nation in the world steps up in order to accomplish that the United States is read to do its fair share and Secretary Clinton and the Speaker today reflect that commitment that our country is willing to make.
Q: Today the Secretary of State Clinton said that the deal-breaker, if there is to be a deal-breaker, will be transparency, or the lack of transparency in countries who are major emitters like China. China, as you know, has put on the table a target of 40 to 45 percent intensity reductions, but they didn’t put in place any transparency standards and are quite reluctant to put those in place and have resisted to now.
So I have two questions related to that. One: is 45 percent enough intensity in cuts that China has put on the table? And two: more interestingly, considering China’s almost obsession with open access to U.S. markets, is there anything on the broader — just thinking outside of the climate box — anything on the broader geo-political realm U.S. bilateral realm, that the U.S. might be able to put on the table that could make China feel more comfortable to be convinced to accept those transparency standards that are essential. Thank you.
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you. Well, we recognize the importance of China in how we go forward. Our Select Committee visited there at the end of May. We were very impressed by the changes that were taking place in China in terms of renewables, in terms of mass transit, you name it. Every subject — how they construct buildings and the rest. Without these initiatives, although they are still a net-emitter because their development is so strong, nonetheless, matters would be much worse had they not. I think that we were trying to establish — although I have my problems with China in terms of human rights and the rest — we were trying to find a place that we could work together for the benefit of the planet.
Mr. Markey has focused on this relationship and I am going to yield to him to answer your specific questions about intensity and transparency. And as you know, they are very important issues.
Chairman Markey. I think that Henry should answer as well. But 40 to 45 percent is obviously something that is heading in the right direction. We would hope that they could do more, but it is, without question, real progress. And on the question of transparency: we do need China to accept our transparency as part of this process. It is going to be an indispensible part of a confidence builder that ensures that every country in the world is doing their fair share of what they can do. So, it’s important that the commitments that are made are on. And so here, as all the nations of the world gather, obviously it’s important that that be achieved. Going forward — yes, in bilaterals, we can continue to find what all of this means, but I think that it is important that we not leave here with this failing on the question of transparency. It’s important for China to make a statement that ensures that the rest of the world knows that the transparency in their system will be one that can be realized.
Majority Leader Hoyer. I might just simply end with that we just met with Minister Ramish of India, in which transparency was a major issue. And it is clear that — President Reagan once said that: trust but verify that the world was coming to agreement with one another on achieving objectives, it must be able to verify that not only are they reaching those objectives, but with those with whom they have agreed are reaching those objectives, maintain competitive fairness.
Q: Thank you Congressman. David Corn from Mother Jones Magazine and Politics Daily. I’d like to ask Chairmen Waxman and Markey a question. One big debate at this conference has been setting a target for the limit on the global temperature rise between 2 degrees Celsius and 1.5 degrees Celsius. Over 100 countries — a majority of countries here — want to keep it towards 1.5. Since you have spent so much time on the science and the policy of climate change, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on what the target should be?
Chairman Waxman. The targets that we set out in our legislation, which the President of the United States has articulated, as a target thought to be agreed to by the other countries as well — a 17 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 and then over 80 percent of 2050, are consistent with the science. These numbers were developed to avoid the tipping point that we might reach if we don’t get the reductions in a timely enough manner, so that the dire consequences that may be irreversible will be prevented. So we think those are very important targets and we would hope that other countries would recognize that as well. We feel very strongly about the targets and the timetables.
Chairman Markey. We believe that 2 degrees Centigrade is the proper goal for this moment in history. However, we also believe that we are about to unleash the greatest technological revolution that has ever been seen. And we will not only be cooperating, but we will be competing as nations, to be the leaders in this renewable and efficiency revolution. So, I believe that once we establish this goal, have the rest of the world begin to compete, it will be not unlike the telecommunications revolution of the 1990s where we went from not one home in America with broadband to 10 years later — the language was Google, and eBay and Amazon — and 10 years before seemed like ancient history.
The same thing is going to happen in this clean-tech sector. We are going to unleash the revolution, and I think that we will actually do far better than our initial goal, which will be 2 degrees Centigrade. But only if the world can come together here and agree that the problem is large enough that we should unleash that competition and cooperation.
Q: Thank you. Margaret Ryan with Clean Skies News. With the meetings you all have been having in your time here, what is the biggest question you’re most often asked about what the U.S. is going to do and have you been able to satisfy the problems that the other delegations have raised with you?
Majority Leader Hoyer. Well, I would yield to Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey, but generally speaking, we have been here a relatively short time so we have not been subjected to a lot of questions as opposed to a lot of briefings. But let me yield to Mr. Waxman.
Chairman Waxman. I think that our Leader is correct. But the other side of it is that the most of the people involved, from other countries, already know what we’re trying to do in the United States and how our legislation would seek to accomplish the goals. And we are looking to a system where we would assure our reductions with a cap on total carbon emissions and then achieve the reductions in most cost-effective way. And we make a great deal of investment in new technology, particularly in the area of coal, which we think is an important source of energy that we must rely on, but we must also rely on it in a way that will not be hazardous to the environment.
So carbon capture sequestration technology, which we hope to be developing in the United States, will not only be important to the United States, but so many other countries as well. It is, of course, a domestic resource. One that will help us become less dependent on having to import our supplies for our energy.
Majority Leader Hoyer. The Speaker wanted to comment on that as well.
Speaker Pelosi. Although we have only been here a short period of time, our Select Committee and under different auspices, our Members have traveled the world on this subject in particular. So it’s a complete focus on climate change and the questions we are always asked are: What is the U.S. going to do? Of course, it’s no secret that there has been a big change as to what the U.S. is willing to do in terms of world leadership on this issue of climate change with President Barack Obama in office. And so, you see that we come, as they say, equipped with Waxman-Markey, and that’s one message. But this was not, as Mr. Markey has said, the beginning of it.
When the President was elected, much of what we had done, under Mr. Gordon’s leadership on Science and Technology Committee, with our COMPETES Act, was finally able to be funded. And in the President’s first bill in the Recovery Act, we have brought $67 billion for investments in energy and science that together, will help us make investments which will reap benefits not only for our country, but for the world. Whether it is the Farm Bill, or the Energy Bill of two years ago and the rest, COMPETES Act, innovation — all of this is in preparation for what Markey-Waxman is able to do and there is enormous funding in anticipation of Waxman-Markey.
And then, of course, what the Secretary announced today, anticipated the questions I think many people had about what we are going to do to help some of the other countries directly. And we’re very proud of her announcement. As I say, it has already been prepared for from our standpoint in the Waxman-Markey bill and other initiatives in the Congress in terms of our appropriations. But I think that that announcement anticipated the questions that we would have received upon arrival. So, we congratulate her and the Obama Administration for their support.
Q: The question is for Chairmen Markey and Waxman. And the question is: do they support the proposals for an international tax on bunker fuels for aviation and shipping? Which is a proposal that has gotten a lot of support from other Annex 1 countries.
Chairman Markey. We have not taken a position on that issue at this time. We are looking forward to learning more about the discussion here in Copenhagen and I think that that will impact our ultimate decision.
Majority Leader Hoyer. We’re going to have to end, but before we do I want to recognize Bart Gordon, Chairman of our Science and Technology Committee. He has been very much involved in these issues as well. Chairman Gordon.
Chairman Gordon. Thank you Mr. Majority Leader. Although President Obama has taken a number of unilateral actions to move us forward, and I’m sure will take additional actions, and although we have passed in the House a good bill which I think you’ll see passed in the Senate and then through conference. As a practical matter, it is going to be very difficult to get — whether it is where we want to go in terms of climate change, energy independence, or just sustainability of the planet — from 7 billion people to 9 billion people — without new technologies. And as the Speaker said earlier, we have put in place types of research programs that are being funded that can get us from here to there.
And so, I’m excited about the breakthroughs. I think we have to recognize though, that it won’t be done unilaterally. I think that they’re going to have to be really — the real breakthroughs that we’re going to have to make for those big issues are going to have to be collaboratively, international — there’s going to have to be international collaboration — financially as well as intellectually. And I think that we have set that framework up and I’m optimistic that we’re going to be successful.
Majority Leader Hoyer. On behalf of the Speaker and myself…
Chairman Rangel. I just want to take this opportunity to thank our Speaker for representing not just the House of Representatives, but to demonstrate that we have a separation of power in our country, and we all support our great President and his initiative. And even though the Senate has not officially taken a position because of the concentration on the health bill, this entire delegation is here to show the complete support that we have for the United States initiative and the fact that we have a deep commitment on this issue. And we collectively want to let everyone know that when our President speaks, it is with one voice, even though we have separation of powers. And I want to thank the House Speaker, once again, for giving us this opportunity.
Speaker Pelosi. I just want to say that this Waxman-Markey bill was drafted with an eye toward Copenhagen and it was not oblivious to what was happening in the world, in fact, it anticipated and took the lead on many of those issues. So, the leads that we believe that we come here pretty well prepared to have a bill that is a vehicle for how we can work together with other countries, recognizing this is a global challenge.
And in closing, I would just like to say that earlier today I had the privilege of participating in a panel including the President of Finland — she was magnificent — but many other women leaders to talk about the impact of climate change on women. I started off my comments by saying this climate change — for us to come here is to talk about jobs — jobs for the future. But it’s also about climate change, it’s also about health, the alleviation of poverty, eradication of disease — it’s all connected. And women play a very strong role and that we see this as an empowerment for women issue as well.
So I want to thank my colleagues for their leadership. For putting us in a position to be good partners to other countries and again thank the government of Denmark for their hospitality. I wanted you to know that so powerful is this issue, so important is this trip, that momentarily, Mr. Hoyer and I — me of my Italian background and he of his Danish — have set aside the debate as to who discovered America. [Laughter.] Thank you all.
Majority Leader Hoyer. Well, we set it aside because we know Leif Erikson was here long before….
Thank you all very, very much.