NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s virtual briefing with Jose Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos and I’ll be the moderator.
Before we get started with the briefing, let’s go over a few logistics. This briefing is on the record. It will be recorded and made available to participants after its conclusion. Participation in this briefing implies your consent to being recorded. We will post a video recording and transcript on our website as soon as possible. If the Zoom session fails or disconnects, please rejoin and dial in using the phone number provided in the link.
So let’s begin. I’d like to welcome and introduce our distinguished briefer today, Jose W. Fernandez, who was confirmed by the Senate as Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment on August 6th of 2021. He leads the State Department’s bureaus and offices that stand at the center of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts on climate change, clean energy, health, supply chain security, and other economic priorities. Under Secretary Fernandez is also a United States Alternative Governor to the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Under Secretary Fernandez will provide an update on U.S. diplomatic and programmatic efforts to strengthen global security – excuse me – global energy security and accelerate the transition to clean energy. After his opening remarks, I will return and a Q&A session will commence.
And with that, it’s a pleasure to turn it over to you, sir. Thank you and welcome.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much and good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m in my hometown in New York and it’s always good to be back. So thank you all for attending. Thank you to the New York Foreign Press Center for arranging this briefing. As you heard, I serve as the U.S. Department of State’s Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and the offices that I oversee are working together with our embassies and partners to help U.S. businesses navigate international trade. We also conduct economic, energy, and climate diplomacy developed from a foundation of proven science and solid economics.
I’m here in New York at the UN General Assembly to address some key global challenges, global challenges that we face every day, especially following Russia’s aggression of Ukraine, challenges such as food and energy security, and trade and investment. I’d also like to focus today on our work to enhance global energy security and also at the same time accelerate the clean energy transition. These are two critical U.S. policy goals.
The most significant disruption to global energy security that we face was inflicted by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine and its weaponization of energy. Putin unilaterally – unilaterally – violated contracts and cut off natural gas supplies to European countries. Putin has demonstrated yet again to the world that Russia is not a reliable supplier of energy, to the detriment of Russia’s economy, to the detriment of the Russian people. It’ll be – and I can tell you this from my approaches in the business world. It will be incredibly difficult for Russia to ever again try and portray itself as a reliable supplier of energy.
In response, we have engaged major producers at home and around the world to support additional natural gas supplies to Europe. We’ve also asked LNG suppliers to add flexibility to old and new contracts, and we’ve encouraged U.S. energy companies to ramp up production and ramp up exports. We are proud of what our companies have done in order to fill the breach caused by Russia’s blackmail.
U.S. LNG companies are now exporting at full capacity and they will bring more capacity online later this year and next. In 2022, we in the U.S. tripled our LNG exports to Europe compared to the exports in 2021, and we became Europe’s largest LNG supplier. To stabilize global oil markets, we worked with the International Energy Agency and our member countries to collectively release 240 million barrels from our Strategic Petroleum Reserves starting last spring. And at the same time, we coordinated with allies and partners on additional measures to curtail Russia’s ability to finance its brutal warfare. An unprecedented number and variety of sanctions and other actions were levied on Russia.
But as prices went up, Russia’s revenues increased, allowing it to further fund its invasion of Ukraine. And so on September the 2nd, the G7 announced that we will – it will be implementing a price cap on Russian oil. If Russia does not adhere to the old price cap, it will not be able to access critical services like banking, insurance, or brokering from G7 countries. This cap will ensure that Russia makes less money from oil exports while helping to keep Russian oil flowing onto world markets.
These actions and previous actions that we’ve taken in response to Russian attacks have been possible because the U.S., its allies, and partners have been united. We understand and we’ve known from day one that no one country can do it alone. The energy map is changing due to Russia’s war. Supply chains have been disrupted. We’ve seen unprecedented volatility. We’re seeing it now, especially in energy markets. Our allies and partners around the globe, not just in Europe, are concerned about their own energy security. At the same time, the rate of climate-related disaster is growing, threatening communities around the world. And that’s why we believe that the clean energy transition is key. It’s key in the long term. It’s key to energy security and expanded access to reliable and affordable energy.
We know that developing and deploying commercial technologies, technologies like renewable energy and battery storage, will be critical to avoiding the worst effects of climate change. We’re also funding research and development to commercialize technologies needed for hard-to-abate sectors like construction and industry, and these sectors include nuclear power from small modular reactors and green hydrogen. These efforts will improve energy security and expand economic opportunity.
However, we also understand that in addition to increasing supply, we’ve got to moderate consumption. Increasing energy efficiency is an effective way to reduce consumer energy costs, reduce emissions, and improve the competitive* of our business. Our European partners are taking this very, very seriously by surging the installation of smart thermostats and mandating energy conservation in public buildings.
We also need to ensure that as new technologies are deployed, the supply chains for those goods are secure. And as we advance a clean energy transition, certain minerals have become increasingly essential. They are critical inputs to new technologies. Transparent, open, secure, and sustainable supply chains for these critical minerals are vital to ensure that these technologies are deployed at the speed and scale necessary to combat climate change effectively.
The Minerals Security Partnership, or MSP, that I launched in June alongside several partners brings together major mineral-consuming countries. And this is a partnership that we hope will promote public and private sector investments in strategic mining, processing, and recycling that adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards.
I am hosting a meeting for the MSP, the Minerals Security Partnership, here on the margins of the General Assembly. Mineral-rich countries will discuss their priorities, their challenges, and opportunities related to the responsible mining and processing in – of critical minerals.
So I’ve spoken for a long time, and thank you. If you’ll let me just close by saying that we are committed to advancing our work through the MSP, through other signature efforts and partnerships, but we have also been – we’ve also been very much welcomed here by our allies and partners. We’ve had excellent discussions, discussions that have been – in many ways have been prompted by Russian atrocities, by Russia’s violations of the basic tenets of international law with its invasion of Ukraine, and of course with Putin’s latest declarations as of a couple of days ago.
So with that, let me – let me turn it over to you (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your opening remarks. We’ll start the Q&A session portion of this program. To ask a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you. We invite you to enable both your audio as well as your video as a courtesy to the Under Secretary. You can also ask your question in the chat feature at the bottom of the screen and I can read it out loud.
So the first question will go to Dmitry Kirsanov of TASS. Go ahead, Dmitry.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me okay?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. Mr. Secretary, first off, I apologize for my somewhat informal appearance. I didn’t plan to take part in this. That’s why I’m not wearing a tie or a suit.
Anyway, I wanted to ask if the Biden administration intends to proceed further with the SPR releases beyond 180 days. That’s question one. And question two, which is: I was hoping you could provide us with some more granularity on how exactly your talks with allies and partners go as far as the price gap, imposing the price gap on the Russian oil and gas. Thanks.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Dmitry, I had trouble – I had trouble hearing. Can you just – and don’t worry about the tie. I envy —
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: I envy your ability to not wear it. Can you please repeat the questions?
QUESTION: Absolutely. Question one was the SPR, oil releases from the SPR. Does the Biden administration intend to proceed further with that beyond 180 days? And question two: price cap, any additional details on your talks with allies and partners?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, on the SPR, I can’t tell you about the plans. I can tell you that we have received unprecedented solidarity with our partners and that we are – we are looking for every way that we can help our partners in New York.
Look, what we’ve seen is this Russian blackmail on energy. And we need to make sure – and basically what Putin is gambling on is that our solidarity will crumble. It’s nothing – nothing worse – nothing more blackmail. It’s blackmail that ultimately will hurt, and has hurt already, consumers’ willingness to trust Russian delivery promises.
I don’t know – I can’t tell you much about those plans other than to say we are taking every step that we are – that we can. And as I said earlier, our LNG and other producers are going all-out to make sure that this weaponization of energy does not succeed.
With respect to the price cap, it’s a global effort to ensure the oil supply while limiting the benefit to Russia. And it’s a very basic belief that Russia should be constrained from using energy profits to fund its aggression in Ukraine. And this action would show unity in the face of unprovoked – of unprovoked aggression. It’s yet another – it’s yet another example of this unprecedented solidarity that’s been engendered by Russia’s aggression.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. So while we wait for our questions to come in, I wonder if you could comment on whether the administration will be considering reopening the Keystone Pipeline to increase the amount of oil and address the energy crisis.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: I don’t – I don’t think we’ve had discussions on that. I don’t – I have not – I don’t have any news of any plans to do so.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question will go to —
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Keep in mind also that the Keystone Pipeline, even today if you had – if it went forward, would not be able to address the energy shortages that we experience today as a result of Russia’s aggression. But I don’t have – I had not heard of any plans to change that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Let’s go to Alex. Alex, please enable your audio and video to ask your question.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Can you hear me? I have – I’m having some technical issues with my —
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you so much for doing this. And Under Secretary, thank you so much for being here. This is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. I have a couple of questions. Does the United States believe that the Russian state and Russian state-owned companies must no longer be allowed to own energy infrastructure or energy companies within the EU? If so, I’m just wondering: what are the medium and short-term steps that, in your opinion, that both the U.S. and Europe should take to win Putin’s, as you put it, gas war – learning Nord Stream 2 lessons?
There are also calls forcing Gazprom sell its storage facilities in the EU, prohibiting both Gazprom and Rosneft from doing business with European banks to escape their money laundering, et cetera. I’m just wondering how much you have subscribed to those calls.
My last question: I want to ask about the role of Azerbaijan in this new picture as well. How much do you think countries such as Azerbaijan could play tangible role, essential role in this current station without actually divorcing itself from Russian influence? Thank you so much.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: On the first one, I would just say that it’s the – it’ll be a EU decision, and I would just refer you to them. On the role of Azerbaijan, look, Azerbaijan knows Putin and what he’s capable of doing quite well, and I think it behooves on all of us to further our energy independence from Russia. We’ve seen what this blackmail leads to. We knew it – we’ve known it from day one. And his willingness to weaponize, to weaponize energy and to try and bring us to our knees through – through – by creating an energy crisis that has led to increased prices around the world, inflation around the world, is something that I think Azerbaijan knows quite well.
What strikes me often as I read the press is that Putin’s blackmail has been – has also been – has included a lot of misinformation, misinformation that for example would say that it’s our – that our sanctions are causing the energy shortage, that our sanctions are causing food insecurity, that our sanctions are causing shortages of fertilizer around the world. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this is an outright lie, and it – this is not an opinion of mine. You can look this up in our regulations that specifically in black and white exempt energy, fertilizers, and food. So the shortages that we’re seeing around the world, the fact that in many parts of the developing world people can’t get enough to eat, that they have to go to bed hungry – is the direct result of Russia’s aggression, which we have one more – one more atrocity that’s being committed by Putin’s people, not just in Ukraine, not just because of mass graves and other atrocities, but also around the world, in Africa and elsewhere, and that they are suffering as a result of this war. I mean, it’s not our sanctions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question will go to Ethan Holmes of Sputnik: “German officials have recently begun reconsidering the use of nuclear energy in the country, which they phased out following the Fukushima disaster. Would the U.S. offer support, either in terms of knowledge or technical assistance, in helping European partners reinvigorate, start, or further develop nuclear energy capabilities?”
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Look, we’ve said all along, first of all, it’s – the Germans took a decision and it’s their decision to change that, and we respected their earlier decision, and we will do so whatever they decide to do. But we’ve also said always that nuclear energy can be – can be part of the clean energy future. And you have seen the U.S. support nuclear power in several nations where – there are a number of U.S. companies that are involved in this area, and in Europe. And countries such as France depend on nuclear energy. So we see it – a decision like that, we see it favorably, but it’s ultimately Germany’s decision.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Could you comment – how can heavily coal-dependent countries transition away to cleaner energy sources?
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Yeah, that’s – one – something that we are learning from this blackmail and the energy shortages is that we’ve got to ramp up our clean energy technologies. We’ve got to ramp up our development into solar energy and wind and other sources of clean energy. So the answer is to intensify our efforts and – more investments, more development. And that’s what we’re – we’re hoping that that will be one of the lessons that we will have learned from the current situation.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. So I encourage everyone who has joined us today to raise your virtual hand or type your question in the chat. I don’t see any more questions coming in. I turn it over to you, sir, for any closing remarks, or comments about being here in your hometown in New York.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Well, it’s great to be here, but I’m also – I attended a talk this morning who – that was proceeded by the foreign minister of Spain, who spoke. And I was – and he talked about Russian atrocities, Russia’s violation of international law, the concept of – the concept that borders are inviolate, that simply we had hoped that war was an – as an instrument of policy, something that we had – that we no longer would have to experience. And now that’s changed.
And then he talked about how European solidarity has, and American solidarity have really come together as a result of this war. And he gave a talk about respect for human rights, free speech, the right of people to choose their own future, that frankly I could have given, and any government official could have given. And I told them, and I said it publicly, we are so aligned, we’re so aligned and so resolute in our desire to oppose this power grab, this land grab, that – that’s something that I think has come out of this.
And Putin, early on, said – insisted that Ukraine was not a country, it was not a nation. I think he knows better now. He thought – he said that he gambled that the Americans and the Europeans and other countries around the globe would not stand up to Russian aggression. I think he’s learned better. He also thought that – and he also thinks – and we’ve seen this recently – he also thinks that he can bring that solidarity to his knees. I think we’re showing him by our actions, by our words, by a willingness to support each other, that that is not the case.
And all we’re asking – all that the world wants is for the Ukrainian people to be able to have their country, to have their territory. And that’s something that I think we will continue to support, and I’m proud to say that the Biden administration has done much to work to support that. So thank you, and I hope we have a chance to speak again.
MODERATOR: Thank you for your time. I know it’s a busy week for you, and we want to be respectful of your schedule. So today’s briefing was on the record. We will provide a transcript to everyone who attended and post it to our website as well. And with that, sir, thank you for joining us, and good day.
UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Thank you.