Calm, cool, and collected
March 11, 2011, 2:44 p.m. EST
Transcript of Obama’s press conference
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan earlier today.
First and foremost, our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Japan. This is a potentially catastrophic disaster and the images of destruction and flooding coming out of Japan are simply heartbreaking. Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies, and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister Kan. On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.
We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on its way. We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed. The Defense Department is working to account for all our military personnel in Japan. U.S. Embassy personnel in Tokyo have moved to an offsite location. And the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in the country.
Tsunami warnings have been issued across the Pacific, and we’ve already seen initial waves from the tsunami come ashore on Guam and other U.S. territories, in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as on — along the West Coast. Here in the United States, there hasn’t been any major damage so far. But we’re taking this very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation very closely. FEMA is fully activated and is coordinating with state and local officials to support these regions as necessary. And let me just stress that if people are told to evacuate, do as you are told.
Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be. Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.
Now, before I take a few questions let me say a few words about something that’s obviously been on the minds of many Americans here at home, and that’s the price of gasoline.
In an economy that relies on oil, gas prices affect everybody -– from farmers and truck drivers to restaurant owners and workers as well as consumers. Businesses see rising prices affect their bottom line. Families feel the pinch every time they fill up the tank. For Americans already facing a tough time, it’s an added burden.
Of course, rising prices are not a new phenomenon. Three years ago, before the recession hit, a combination of factors, including rising demand from emerging economies like China, drove gas prices to more than $4 a gallon. The worldwide recession and the decrease in demand pushed prices back down. But over the past year, as the economy has picked up steam and global demand for oil has increased, prices have increased again. Turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East has added uncertainty to the mix and lost production in Libya has tightened supply.
Now, here’s the good news. The global community can manage supply disruptions like this. Other oil-producing nations have committed to filling any gaps –- and we will continue to coordinate closely with our international partners to keep all options on the table when it comes to any supply disruptions.
Here at home, everybody should know that should the situation demand it, we are prepared to tap the significant stockpile of oil that we have in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We’re also using the resources at our disposal at the federal level to monitor any possible manipulation in the oil markets. And I’m asking the Attorney General and relevant state — relevant agencies to work with state attorneys general to monitor for price gouging to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of working families at the pump.
In addition, America is better prepared for supply disruptions than we used to be. Today, we use 7 percent less oil than we did in 2005, even as our economy has grown since then, partly because our economy as a whole is more efficient. We’re adapting. We’re producing more oil and we’re importing less. Our automakers, for example, are manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars -– some that now get more than 50 miles to the gallon –- and our consumers are driving more of these cars.
In December, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a payroll tax cut that is already helping to grow our economy and create jobs. In the wake of rising gas prices, it should also help act as a cushion for working families. This doesn’t lessen our commitment to do everything that we can to get gas prices down, but that tax cut will total about $1,000 for the average working family this year, or an extra $80 or so showing up in your paycheck each month. And that tax relief package is a key reason that even with these higher prices, economists and investors like Warren Buffett believe we should still expect solid growth and strong private sector job creation this year.
Now, the hard truth is, is that as long as our economy depends on foreign oil, we’ll always be subject to price spikes. So we’ve got to get moving on a comprehensive energy strategy that pursues both more energy production and more energy conservation. We need to increase our access to secure energy supplies in the near term, and we’ve got to make our economy more energy-efficient and energy-independent over the long run.
Let me be more specific. First, we need to continue to boost domestic production of oil and gas. Last year, American oil production reached its highest level since 2003. Let me repeat that. Our oil production reached its highest level in seven years. Oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time high. For the first time in more than a decade, imports accounted for less than half of what we consumed.
So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn’t match up with reality. We are encouraging offshore exploration and production. We’re just doing it responsibly. I don’t think anybody has forgotten that we’re only a few months removed from the worst oil spill in our history. So what we’ve done is to put in place common-sense standards like proving that companies can actually contain an underwater spill. And oil companies are stepping up — we’ve approved more than 35 new offshore drilling permits that meet these new safety and environmental standards.
There is more we can do, however. For example, right now, the industry holds leases on tens of millions of acres –- both offshore and on land –- where they aren’t producing a thing. So I’ve directed the Interior Department to determine just how many of these leases are going undeveloped and report back to me within two weeks so that we can encourage companies to develop the leases they hold and produce American energy. People deserve to know that the energy they depend on is being developed in a timely manner. Read the rest here.