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Ask the Ambassador: U.S. Ambassador to EU, C. Boyden Gray

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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union C. Boyden Gray discussed the "United States-European Union High-Level Dialogue on Climate Change, Clean Energy, and Sustainable Development" and other relarted issues.

Michael C. Polt, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia
C. Boyden Gray
U.S. Ambassador to E.U.
Biography

Event Date: 10/20/2006


Lyons from Washington writes:

What efforts has the European Union undertaken that we, in the U.S. could learn from and establish here on the clean air issue?

Ambassador Gray:

What we certainly share is a desire to improve the air quality for our citizens. The question, though, is how to establish the best mechanisms to accomplish that goal. In the U.S., we have made some major strides. Since 1970, U.S. aggregate emissions of the six principal pollutants have been cut by about 50 percent, while the U.S. economy has grown by about 175 percent. We have taken many actions to reduce air toxics including establishing regulations and trading regimes for industrial plants. I am also encouraged that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is due to implement a long-delayed rule to reduce hazardous air pollutants from mobile sources in the U.S.

In September 2005, the European Commission presented a strategy to reduce air pollution in Europe, targeting five main pollutants. The key new element of the strategy is to extend clean air laws into new sectors - including agriculture and transport - that were not covered before. In late September 2006, however, the EU's Parliament voted to weaken some of those proposals - especially on the important issue of fine particles. The EU's Commissioner for Environment Stavros Dimas criticized the Parliament's action, but it is unclear where the proposal will go next. This is important because a recent survey of 26 large European cities shows that only three are in full compliance with current EU air-quality standards.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the United States has better air quality overall than the European Union and longer experience with highly efficient market mechanisms for enforcement, so it may well be that Europe has more to learn from the U.S. than vice-versa.

But as I said, we do share a fundamental interest in promoting better air quality on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, our U.S. Mission to the European Union will be sponsoring a transatlantic conference on Clean Air issues in Brussels early next year. That conference will focus on how we can share experiences, develop effective policy instruments, and promote enhanced collaboration on new technologies for clean air. In addition, it will explore how we can jointly assist other countries like China, where pollution is increasingly dire.


Julia from Brazil writes:

Are the European Union countries together with the United States on the situation in North Korea?

Ambassador Gray:

The European Union stands with the United States and the international community in support of sanctions against North Korea (the DPRK) in response to its October 9 nuclear test. We and the EU are in complete agreement that the actions of North Korea add to the risks of proliferation worldwide.

The U.S. played a major role in working with the UN Security Council and with key states in the region such as China, South Korea and Russia, to develop a UN resolution that would be a powerful signal to the DPRK that it must eliminate its nuclear weapons and nuclear programs and stop development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles. UN Security Council Resolution 1718, adopted in response to North Korea's actions, was passed unanimously and is legally binding on all Member States.

The EU has stood with us all the way. In fact, in an October 17 meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg, the EU strongly condemned the test and vowed to fully implement the provision of all relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, notably 1718 and an earlier Resolution 1695 adopted in July in response to DPRK missile launches. The EU, although not a party to the Six-Party Talks (involving the U.S., DPRK, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia), urged the DPRK to return immediately to the Talks and to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.


Romesh from Bangladesh writes:

Your Excellency, as you know, Dr. Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank have received the Nobel Peace Prize 2006. What is your reaction to this historic achievement by a Bangladeshi and his organization, and what role do you think micro-credit plays in peace, alleviating poverty, and sustainable development?

Ambassador Gray:

I salute the selection of Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank, the father and founding institution of micro-credit, for the Nobel Peace Prize. This achievement confirms the key role of microfinance in alleviating poverty and empowering citizens and demonstrates that the international community recognizes the close link between development and peace.

The U.S. has long supported the extraordinary work of Dr. Yunus and has integrated micro-enterprise initiatives into U.S. assistance programming for over a decade. The U.S. Agency for International Development does this in a number of ways: by supporting NGOs, credit union networks, and financial institutions.

Access to micro-credit is particularly vital to women entrepreneurs, who often have limited access to conventional financing, but who can be motors of economic and social development. As micro-enterprises expand and integrate into the formal economies of their countries, they empower the poor, create more jobs and higher income, contribute to economic growth, and strengthen democratic societies.


Rachel from Massachusetts writes:

Ambassador Gray, Do you feel the average American citizen is fully aware of the importance of clean energy and how it affects the global environment?

Ambassador Gray:

Yes. There are several ways we can measure American awareness of the importance of clean energy and commitment to using energy efficient products. A June 2005 Yale poll showed that 93 percent of Americans want the government to develop new energy technologies and to require the auto industry to make cars and trucks that get better gas mileage. Across all regions of the country and every demographic group, there is broad support for finding alternative energy sources.

Building more solar power facilities is considered a "good idea" by 90 percent of the public; 87 percent support expanded wind farms; and 86 percent want increased funding for renewable energy research.

According to Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, "This poll underscores the fact that Americans want not only energy independence, but also to find ways to break the linkage between energy use and environmental harm, from local air pollution to global warming."

Other recent polls support these findings. An April 2006 New York Times/CBS New poll found that 59 percent of Americans would approve an increase in gasoline taxes if it resulted in less consumption or eased the threat of global warming. A Pew Research poll released that same month found that huge majorities of both political parties favor renewables (82 percent of Republicans; 77 percent of Democrats).

Another indicator that the U.S. public is aware of the benefits of clean energy is the success of the U.S. ENERGY STAR program, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, which uses a label to identify the most energy efficient products. In 2005 alone, Americans using ENERGY STAR products saved enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 23 million cars —while saving $12 billion on their utility bills.

A final indicator is the excellence of our own air quality, which is the best measure of clean energy use and is the best in the world, including Europe.


Heather from Pennsylvania writes:

I read that you had a pet pig. Whatever happened to Penelope? Also, where did your little pig sleep? Any information on Penelope will be welcome. Thank you.

Ambassador Gray:

It was my daughter's pet, and we had to give her to a pig farm when my daughter started spending most of her day in school, beginning with the first grade. As a prior owner of both dogs and cats, I can confirm the observation of Winston Churchill that dogs are almost always looking up at you, and cats down, but pigs will treat you as an equal.


Katie from Texas writes:

What is the EU's stance, as a whole, on the Kyoto Protocol, and what actions are the Member States taking to ensure a cleaner environment and more efficient use of energy?

Ambassador Gray:

The European Union's Emissions Trading System (ETS) is designed to limit the total emissions of major industrial energy users, and is the EU's main tool for achieving its 2012 targets under the Kyoto Protocol. National targets, for each individual plant, are contained in the National Allocation Plans approved by the Commission. Since January 1, 2005, approximately 12,000 large industrial plants in the EU have been able to buy and sell permits to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This first trading period runs through 2007, and the second will run from 2008-2012.

Industries currently covered are electricity, iron and steel, glass, cement, and pottery and bricks, accounting for about 40% of the EU's total CO2 emissions. Many sectors are exempted from the ETS, and Member States may also request that the Commission exempt individual plants. In certain circumstances, such as low winter temperatures, Member States can issue additional emission allowances. The EU is considering the addition of air transport emissions to the Emissions Trading System; it should also include road transport emissions, which are much larger than those of the air transport sector.

The European Union is also taking action on energy efficiency. On October 19, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs presented his action plan on energy efficiency, which consists of over 75 EU-wide measures to achieve a 20% reduction of Europe's energy consumption by 2020. The Commission, and the Member States, view energy efficiency as one way to address the challenge of global warming and the EU's increasing energy dependence.


Ariel from New York writes:

Do you think it is in the U.S. interest to advocate the acceptance of Turkey into the EU? Why or why not?

Ambassador Gray:

Accession to the European Union is a matter among EU members and prospective member nations.

That said, we believe that a Turkey pursuing economic and political reform and moving closer to the European Union is in the best interests of Turkey, the EU, and the United States. The prospect of EU membership has been the driving force behind Turkey's significant reform since 1999, and that dynamic continues. Turkey is trying to achieve its vision of becoming a European country, while remaining true to traditional Turkish values. We have supported Turkey's European vocation and its EU membership from the beginning.

As Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Dan Fried has well said - during the Cold War, Turkey's importance was military and security; today its importance is civilizational and political. The United States has long worked in close partnership with Turkey - in NATO, on energy matters, including the recently completed Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, on counter-terrorism.

President Bush met Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan at the White House on October 2 of this year, nearly one year to the day after the EU's October 3, 2005 decision to open accession negotiations with Turkey. Following the meeting, the President said that he had made it very clear that he "think[s] it's in the United States' interests that Turkey join the European Union."

We want to continue to work closely as Turkey plays an ever-increasing role in regional peace, stability, and prosperity, moving to a future in which Turkey is both anchored in Europe and a bridge to the East.


Cliff from Hong Kong writes:

What is your opinion on Al Gore's new movie "An Inconvenient Truth"?

Ambassador Gray:

I've seen the movie. I thought it was good. I thought it was extremely well done. He's obviously got this lecture down very, very well. I just question some of the facts. And one of the facts is that there is no scholarly dissent from the party line - and I just don't think that is true. I think there are a lot of academicians who have questions not about whether there is global warming, but about how much humans are contributing and how precisely to address the problem.

It is well done and should be a catalyst for the public and policymakers to learn more about the issue of climate change. I just think that some of what the move portrays as uncontroverted truth is still subject to scientific debate. "An Inconvenient Truth" is an important element in the discussion, but I wouldn't say it's the last word.


Tim from Luckritz writes:

What role do you believe Germany plays in the governing of the European Union? Do they play a larger role than most, an equal role, or a smaller role?

Ambassador Gray:

Germany played an essential role in promoting closer European integration and the development of the European Union. In doing so, it has also shown that Germany can be a leading nation in Europe while still remaining a close partner and ally of the United States. The United States and Germany share fundamental values and interests, and we are looking forward to working with the upcoming German EU Presidency on a broad range of issues, from promoting peace and democracy in the Middle East to removing remaining barriers to trade and investment across the Atlantic.


Leon from Massachusetts writes:

Is the U.S. worried that Russia's growing energy cooperation with the EU and China will put the United States at a disadvantage, especially since the Iraq fiasco and with the international community's suspicions regarding U.S. goals?

Ambassador Gray:

In short, no. Russia has the world's largest natural gas reserves. Data this year suggest that Russia has overtaken Saudi Arabia in oil production. The natural markets for its gas are Europe and perhaps in the future, China, although building pipelines there will be very expensive. Oil is a different story. It is sold onto a transparent world market. Anything that increases hydrocarbon production adds to the world supply. That's a good thing, and not something the U.S. is particularly concerned about.

We do have an interest in promoting transparency in the Russian energy market and in ensuring the sanctity of contracts. Some of Russia's recent moves to target foreign energy companies operating there are suspect. We also we agree with Europe that it is a good idea to diversify energy supplies and that there are some good prospects for the EU to enhance its energy security through developing alternative routes of gas, in particular from the Caspian and Central Asia, and through the deployment of clean coal technologies to take advantage of Europe's ample coal reserves.


Brett from California writes:

Mr. Ambassador, nuclear energy continues to be controversial in the U.S. Could you state briefly the current thinking within the Administration as to its feasibility and potential as an alternative to fossil fuels? Thank you.

Ambassador Gray:

To enhance our future energy security, we can and must do more to reduce our future demand for natural gas and to foster alternatives for power production. The President's Advanced Energy Initiative proposes significant new investments and policies in three promising areas: (1) clean coal technology; (2) nuclear power; and (3) renewable solar and wind energy.

In the United States, nuclear power provides slightly more than one-fifth of the electricity that we use to power our factories, office buildings, homes, and schools. Nuclear power provides significant benefits to our nation, in the form of cleaner air and low and stable electricity prices. Nuclear power does not emit the air pollutants and greenhouse gases that result from coal-fired and natural-gas-fired generation. Nuclear power is also domestic and provides energy security. Without nuclear energy, carbon dioxide emissions have been 28 percent greater in the electricity industry in 2004, the United States would have an additional 700 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, and nitrogen-oxide emissions would rise by the equivalent of that produced by 58 million passenger cars. Nuclear power is also generated domestically and therefore contributes to energy security.

Nuclear power also poses significant challenges. New nuclear power plants require more up-front capital expense than other plants of similar size and must go through a lengthy regulatory process, which has not been tested since Congress adopted that process in 1992. The 2005 energy bill attempts to address these problems through a package of financial incentives (including Federal "risk insurance") intended to reduce the risk from an investment in a new nuclear plant. However, management of spent nuclear fuel remains an issue, both with respect to the risk it could be stolen or diverted for potential misuse and with respect to its ultimate disposition.

To enable a bright future for nuclear power, both in the United States and around the world, the President's 2007 Budget contains $250 million for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. Under this partnership, America will work with nations like France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Russia that have advanced civilian nuclear energy programs. Together, we will develop and deploy innovative, advanced reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel. This will allow us to produce more energy, while dramatically reducing waste and eliminating many of the nuclear byproducts that could be used to make weapons.

As these technologies are developed, we will work with our partners to provide developing countries with small-scale reactors that would be secure, cost-effective, and able to meet their energy needs, as well as related nuclear services that would ensure that they have reliable fuel supply. In exchange, these countries would agree to use nuclear power only for electricity - and forego uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that can be used to develop nuclear weapons. By working with other nations under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, we can provide safe, cheap, and reliable energy that growing economies need - while reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation.


Wayne from Washington, D. C. writes:

European Union regulations and competition policy often appear to be barriers to entry designed to limit access by U.S. firms to the EU market and to protect the market share or incumbent firms. What efforts are under way to address the disparities between competition policy in the United States and the EU in order to ensure that U.S. firms will have access to, and will be able to compete in, an increasingly global marketplace?

Ambassador Gray:

The US and the EU dialogue on competition policy is one of the most successful of our transatlantic regulatory dialogues. Although we have some differences in our approach to competition policy, the overall trend is one of convergence. We cooperate closely with the EU on many cartel and merger cases and as a result divergences are minimized. The US and the EU are increasingly working together through the International Competition Network to help other countries develop and implement appropriate competition policies that protect consumers, not competitors.


Kathy from Austin writes:

As Ambassador to the EU, how does your role and approach differ from perhaps that of an Ambassador to one of the individual members of the Union (e.g. France or Germany)?

Ambassador Gray:

Thank you, Kathy, for your question. All U.S. Ambassadors are the personal representatives of the President to specific governments or organizations. The vast majority head bilateral missions to a country or countries. That is the case for my colleagues who serve as Ambassadors to France and Germany and my colleague who is accredited as Ambassador to both Switzerland and Liechtenstein. A small number of Ambassadors are accredited to international organizations of which the U.S. is a member (Ambassador to NATO, to the UN, to UNESCO, to UN organizations in Vienna, Geneva, Rome, etc.). My post is unusual in that I am accredited to the European Union, a 25-country unit (27 countries as of January 1), of which the U.S. is not a member.

Like my bilateral colleagues who are responsible for U.S. personnel in their countries, I direct and coordinate all the U.S. government agencies based in Brussels and working with the European Union. Here at our Mission, we have representatives of the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Treasury, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Like my bilateral colleagues, I am responsible for maintaining relations with the entity to which I am accredited - the European Union. This includes reporting on developments in the EU, recommending courses of U.S. action, making representations to obtain support for U.S. policies, negotiating treaties or agreements. In practice, this Mission supports and coordinates working visits to the EU by many, many senior U.S. Government officials each year, along with working level visits by well over a thousand officials a year.

Some organizational differences from our normal bilateral missions are that my Mission has no consular function or administrative support functions. Our bilateral Embassy to Belgium is responsible for consular affairs - the protection of and assistance for U.S. citizens and immigrant and non-immigrant visa functions. The three U.S. missions in Brussels - the bilateral Embassy to Belgium, and the Missions to NATO and to the EU - are supported by a large joint administrative services operation under the authority of the Ambassador to Belgium.

I encourage you to visit the USEU website at: http://useu.usmission.gov where you can find detailed web links to the many transatlantic issues we work on here at our USEU Mission, as well as web links for information on U.S. relations with individual EU member states.


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