Obama To Meet Mexican-Canadian Counterparts In Ottawa

Jun 29, 2016
Originally published on June 29, 2016 7:00 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. As European leaders deal with the fallout from last week's vote in the U.K. to leave the EU, political leaders here in North America are trying to show a united front. Leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada are meeting today in Ottawa. One sign of cooperation is a continent-wide push for more clean energy, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: When leaders of the U.S. and its neighbors to the north and south get together, it's often called a Three Amigos summit. And this year, at least, it is a friendly gathering. With transatlantic trade talks in jeopardy after the U.K. vote, North America's leaders are highlighting their own close trading ties on a continent that's home to some 500 million consumers. They've also agreed to an ambitious clean energy goal to generate half their electricity from carbon-free sources in less than a decade.

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JASON KOWALSKI: This is a big step forward in the fight against climate change.

HORSLEY: Jason Kowalski, who's with the climate advocacy group 350.org says it's a high bar the leaders are setting. The United States now gets about a third of its electricity from sources that don't contribute to greenhouse gases. Getting to 50 percent will take a lot more wind, solar, hydro or nuclear power and a lot less coal.

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KOWALSKI: I think it's easy to make big-picture commitments to fighting climate change. Where this gets hard is actually saying no to fossil-fuel projects that are proposed right now.

HORSLEY: Coal-fired power plants remain the number one source of heat-trapping carbon pollution in the U.S. But coal's been steadily losing power as a result of environmental regulations and competition from cheap natural gas. Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association says that's taken a toll on coal-mining communities.

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LUKE POPOVICH: We've lost 67,000 jobs-plus just since 2011. And these are jobs that are extremely well-paying with good benefits and, of course, very, very hard to replace in this economy.

HORSLEY: Obama's climate agenda has faced stiff opposition in coal country. But the administration is pushing ahead. A White House adviser says even more ambitious clean energy targets are possible now because North America's leaders are more closely aligned than they've been in decades. Of course, if Donald Trump is elected to succeed Obama, all this continental cooperation could hit a wall. Trump has promised to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and to renegotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Trump's provocative rhetoric is likely to come up today, just as it does whenever the president meets with foreign leaders.

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JOSH EARNEST: World leaders have certainly made note of the debate on the campaign trail. The impact of that debate has not been entirely positive when it comes to the international perception of the United States.

HORSLEY: Obama has publicly downplayed the odds of Trump becoming president. And he did so again this week in an interview with NPR. Obama pointed to public opinion polls showing widespread disapproval of the presumptive Republican nominee. But we'll find out, the president said, adding, that's what elections are for. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.