For Immediate Release May 9, 1997
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(San Jose, Costa Rica)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
SECRETARY OF ENERGY FEDERICO PENA
AND SECRETARY OF INTERIOR BRUCE BABBITT
Real Camino Hotel
San Jose, Costa
1:00 P.M. (L)
MR. JOHNSON: There have been a number of questions I
that some of you have had about the agreements and declarations that were
signed this morning by Secretaries Pena and Babbitt. We thought it would
helpful if we could give you an opportunity to hear from them, and also
opportunity to ask them some questions about how these issues are going
affect Costa Rica and the United States.
Secretary Pena is going to be first. I will let you
advance that he has to duck out pretty soon and go to the airport, and so
he has to leave it has nothing to do with your questions. And the other
I want to bring to your attention is for technical reasons and because
things have already been packed up and taken to the aircraft, we won't
transcript of this until we get to Barbados.
SECRETARY PENA: Thank you very much. Let me be brief
giving a little more clarification to the agreement that was reached with
Costa Rica that the President witnessed this afternoon. I think all of
know that President Figueres and the government of Costa Rica has been
focused on their electric initiative.
We met -- I came here a day early from our trip to
meet with the President personally about this, President Figueres, and
Minister Castro -- thought through the implications of what they were
and they are embarking, first of all, on a five-year project to acquire a
hundred buses, 350 cars, 500 motorcycles, at a total cost of $35 million
all electric. Part of that is a pilot program, a demonstration program,
would only include 15 buses, 50 cars, and 50 motorcycles, at a cost of $5
So we talked about that and how we could work together
supportive way. And so the agreement we reached was that, number one,
Department of Energy would work with the Costa Rican government to help
identify additional funds, either from foundations or the private sector
the United States or elsewhere, to help them to begin to finance this
project; number two, that we would come back to Costa Rica and conduct a
conference involving U.S. experts, U.S. companies, et
cetera, to provide further information and assistance as respects this
electric initiative; number three, that the Department of Energy would
additional technological support based on our own experience in electric
vehicles -- and that was basically the notion of the agreement reached today.
Let me tell you why this was important to us in the
States. Number one, there are a number of U.S. companies that are
involved here. The electric bus that was out at
the site was provided by a company in the United States. President
already has two electric vehicles provided by another U.S. company in the
United States. So we see this as opportunity for U.S. companies to be
engaged here in Costa Rica, providing more electric vehicles. And any
U.S. companies have a leg up, we want to continue to support that.
Number two, we think it's very important that a
country like Costa Rica demonstrate, as it is doing through the
President Figueres, that they can support both economic development and
protecting the environment by engaging in things like the electric
initiative and other renewable energy projects, which are very much
here in Costa Rica.
And number three, we want to be able to demonstrate in
United States if we can do this here in Costa Rica, I believe there are
communities in the United States, given my transportation background,
also replicate what is being done here and convert their systems to
So for all those reasons, this was a very important
discussion for us to have with President Figueres and Minister Castro.
were very pleased to participate in today's announcement, and we have a
work ahead of us. This is the first such agreement we've reached with
country in the world to particularly be engaged in this kind of
way, but I think it has lots of very positive implications for the United
States, for our companies, and for the whole effort to deal with global
So let me stop there and try to answer your questions.
Q Can you tell us what companies, and
they are, are involved?
SECRETARY PENA: There is ABF, ABS -- excuse me, in
SECRETARY PENA: AVS. From Chattanooga, Tennessee,
provided the bus, and the company in Massachusetts that provided the two
Q And that's the company --
SECRETARY PENA: No, they are the ones who have simply
already provided the one bus and the two cars, but there are other U.S.
companies, as you know, who are in the electric bus, electric car
So we would expect that a number of U.S. companies may have an interest
coming here and making these kinds of investments. The idea is to get
pilot project moving, show some success, and then hopefully generate even
Now, the other thing the Costa Rican government is
do is to reduce the tariffs on electric vehicles imported into the
Right now, they have reduced the tariff down to 46 percent, which of
gives an advantage and an incentive to a Costa Rican who wants to
of these vehicles, and there is a proposal before the Costa Rican
totally eliminate the tariff altogether, to make it zero.
So if that happens, then, if you're a Costa Rican
options to buy a vehicle, you now have a level playing field to purchase
electric vehicles. So I think that's quite innovative on the part of the
Costa Rican government, and that's why we had a great interest in coming
and trying to reach this agreement with them.
Okay, if there are no other questions of me, let me
introduce Secretary Babbitt, who will talk about his issues.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Just a few words -- I'm staying on
Costa Rica because the functions that began up there at the park today
moving indoors and melding into a two-day conference that will take place
between biologists, park administrators, and related groups, both from
United States and Costa Rica. As the President mentioned today, this
extraordinary system of protected areas and national parks here in Costa
really originated in the United States with Costa Ricans who, a
ago, went to the United States to look at the national park system and
back to establish a system which now has spread across nearly 25 percent
Costa Rica. In effect, an American idea has been taken and translated
this landscape with some important innovations that now we, in turn, are
beginning to learn from in the United States.
I'll give you just a couple of examples. This concept
biological prospecting is brand new, but it's of real importance. You've
heard that there are many, many alkaloids in chemicals that are being
extracted from rainforests -- plants are directly implicated in possible
for Chagas Disease, a variety of cancers, and other illnesses.
The Costa Rica park system has taken the position that
people who want access to these compounds ought to view that as a natural
resource for which there should be a return to Costa Rica and to the park
system. Several years ago they signed an agreement with the Merck
out of New Jersey, which has set up a formal prospecting arrangement
turn, now helps support the Costa Rican park system as a result of
Merck access and laboratory space to work on prospecting for these compounds.
It turns out that there are a variety of these
available in the United States -- the most interesting recent discovery
thermobacteria up in the geysers and hotpools in Yellowstone. It's a
which does not break down at high temperatures, and it's used in gene
splicing on the way to all kinds of medicinal purposes.
under American law, the National Park Service simply writes a free permit
the benefits flow elsewhere.
We're really interested in the Merck-Costa Rica
because it increasingly seems that we might be doing that in the park
in the United States as a way of financing some of the infrastructure
that has been the subject of so much discussion in the Congress and in
American press in the last couple of years.
A variety of other issues -- I'll leave you with just
other example, and that's the Instituto Nationale de Biologia -- NBO
Institute. The Costa Ricans have pioneered a process of designing their
system by reference to inventories that they take of the entire landscape
the country to make sure that their park system is based upon protecting
representative samples of the entire diversity of Costa Rica.
That's of interest in the United States because our
park system grew up in the American West, and if you look at a map of the
United States, the West is over-represented and many of the earlier
areas in the Eastern United States and in the South are very much
under-represented, both in terms of where the population is and in terms
protecting the species diversity and the ecology of the entire country.
Okay, you've now heard more than you ever wanted to
about ecosystems, biological diversity, and prospecting. If I have
question it is purely accidental. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us a little bit more
this proposal to harness resources out of the United States national
Where does that stand? Is it just something you folks are considering?
you give us an example of what hypothetically could be done under that?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes. It's not just hypothetical.
discovery of these thermobacteria, living in the geyser -- most bacteria
don't know how elementary I need to be. I guess I should -- do I speak
down to the press?
Q Way down. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BABBITT: Okay. If you boil water, if you
water, most life and bacteria are killed dead. It turns out that, in
do a lot of modern gene-splicing in biological applications in the
field, you have to run these at high temperatures. But it's very hard to
the medium, the bacterial mediums of that process, because they're all
at high temperatures. Some bright guy went out a couple years to
and said, I'll bet I can find something that evolved in hotpools, and if
find this we can run these analytical processes to a level of efficiency
that's never occurred before.
Lo and behold, the guy who had this idea went out
looked into the pools and he found the stuff. Now, how much did he pay
access this? Well, just like when you go prospecting for gold on public
-- it's free. And in Costa Rica, had that discovery been made, there
have been a royalty fee attached to the discovery and use of that product.
Now, the superintendent of Yellowstone and a couple
of the National Park Service came down here about six months ago to look
the arrangements between Merck and NBO, and we are now moving -- we have
sample prospecting license now under review in Washington with the idea
future discoveries might carry with them some kind of contractual royalty
agreement which would, in turn, support the operations of the National
There are lots of other examples. This is the most
park-centered one because these hot pools don't seem to exist anywhere
But there are a lot of other interesting examples.
Q Mr. Secretary, could you just tell us
briefly the significance of Clinton going to this U.N. conference next month?
SECRETARY BABBITT: That's a very significant
commitment. That was under discussion, been under discussion for the
several days. The President, to my knowledge, made that decision either
night or this morning. And he explained, I believe, the significance of
This U.N. conference, as a follow-on on Rio, is to examine the ways in
to step up international commitment to sustainable development, to
with climate change. I think it has real significance again for the
that the President stated -- that he hopes that his presence will lead to
attendance by other heads of state and hopefully elevate this follow-on
conference from a relatively low-key proceeding to a high-profile
international assessment of where we've been.
You should also note, in the Presidents's speech, he
some, I think, very significant comments about the global climate problem
certainly would be a part of this conference and the need to find and
accelerate some of the international commitments -- to find them and
Q Do you know the specific date in
do you know if any leaders have already committed to come?
SECRETARY BABBITT: I do not know the answer; no, I
I think President Figueres said in some of his remarks somewhere in the
two days that he was committed to attend, but I'm not sure of the dates.
Q How do you feel about these new
commodities that Costa Rica is trying to -- which essentially are like
emissions credits but across international borders?
SECRETARY BABBITT: It's a very important idea that
the benefit of developing countries and the United States. It is a
mechanism which acknowledges that the output of carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere is a global problem. A unit of carbon dioxide emitted in
Rica has as much effect on the climate in Arizona, where I'm from, as it
in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Now, given this global fungibility of carbon dioxide,
economics would say you ought to try to get the most bang for the buck,
what we're learning in the United States is that there are many areas in
developing countries where a power plant which is building can invest
emissions control and get twice as much carbon dioxide reduction, or ten
as much in Costa Rica, and so in that sense it's a very significant and
Q A follow on that. Does EPA recognize
an investment as a trade-off under their rules for U.S. pollution?
SECRETARY BABBITT: There is not yet a clear framework
credits. In a sense, Costa Rica is, in effect, sort of anticipating the
development of this kind of system. Now, there are some mitigation
under state laws and a whole variety of arrangements. There is not yet a
national framework, if that is your question, and in that sense, this is
There are, however, in some states mitigation
where they are recognizing -- that's true especially in the northeast.
Q Is the administration weighing to
follow up and make such a system?
SECRETARY BABBITT: This issue of having a credit
will surely be a subject at the Rio follow-on and, very importantly, a
at the Climate Change Convention which is being held at the end of this
-- somebody help me -- I think it's in --
SECRETARY BABBITT: Yes, at the end of this year.
everybody sated with --
SECRETARY BABBITT: What a shockingly cynical question.
Q The Washington Post. (Laughter.)
Q I'm sorry, could you repeat the
and cynical question? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BABBITT: He said, Secretary Babbitt, with
respect, don't you think that the issues being discussed today are way
the level of presidential involvement and even dubious for a Secretary of
Interior to be involved in. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BABBITT: Look, from my perspective, the
President's statements today, if you read them, are enormously
have been verging up on two of the major issues of this century in the
international arena and we're still not quite there. One is this issue
biodiversity -- protecting the diversity of God's creation. It is a
transnational issue that we are beginning to recognize, but we still
really moving toward workable international arrangements.
Now, having said that about biodiversity, let me just
the climate change issue even to this group ought to be looming way up as
of the major challenges of our time. The President's remarks today I
were very interesting, because there has been a lot of this press sort of
stuff, well, maybe this isn't real, maybe there's not enough evidence.
President I thought today, absolutely unequivocal when he said, science
now -- there is now a vast scientific consensus that the Earth is warming
result of the consumption of fossil fuels and that although we cannot
the exact effects in a given place, there will be enormous effects on
globe. I'd urge you to sort of underline that language.
We now have an emerging awareness of this, but we do
have a workable international consensus about the best way to go about
will surely emerge as the single largest, most urgent environmental issue
this planet. Now, I'll rest my case.
Q I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --
SECRETARY BABBITT: You don't accept that. Okay.
Q I didn't mean to say the issue was
but that the initiative to deal with that doesn't seem to be especially
bold or grand scale.
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, you've got to -- yes, yes, it
The importance of Costa Rica, a small country, is that its President has
large vision, and it is really quite remarkable to hear the President of
country articulate these issues with such a sense of urgency and to set
kind of example that is being set here in Costa Rica, with their
inventory, with the energy conservation issues that have been discussed
-- discussed their plans to go toward non-fossil energy sources,
putting up an electrical distribution system across Central America; the
credits for carbon mitigation; the fuel
taxes -- a whole variety of really visionary things. And it seems to me
what President Clinton has done is recognize this by his presence as a
remarkable initiative from what would have, at first glance, seem an
source, although it isn't unlikely in reality. The Costa Ricans have
this for a considerable length of time.
And these initiatives, as the President pointed out,
really selling well, to the benefit of this country. The per capita
from tourism and all these related activities in Costa Rica is 20 times
level that it is in Nicaragua, for example. It's really -- it could
become an extraordinarily important facet of this economy.
Q Mr. Secretary, did you get asked yet
banning leaded gasoline, that the President mentioned? Is there
already on the books that would eliminate all leaded gasolines in the
is that something that you're going to pursue?
SECRETARY BABBITT: No, we're passed that in the United
States. That's a done deal. What the President was talking about was --
Q There are still some leaded gasolines
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, I'll tell you, I haven't seen
leaded gasoline in a gas station -- where do you live? (Laughter.)
Q In Chevy Chase we got it all the
(Laughter.) That's off the radar screen, that's a done deal?
SECRETARY BABBITT: It's a done deal in the United
The amazing thing about the leaded gasoline issue is it is still the norm
leaded gasoline is still the norm in most countries of the world. And
important statement today was that Costa Rica is now on a statutory track
phase-out. Once again, that is still the exception rather than the rule.
Okay. I'm astounded by the seminar-like quality of
(Laughter.) Don't ever let it happen again. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
President Clinton's Tour of Mexico, Costa Rica,