Obama touts need for European energy independence

President Obama on Tuesday said the crisis in Ukraine “highlighted the need for greater energy security in Europe.”

During a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, he called on leaders in Europe to expand and diversify their energy supplies.


Obama and Tusk met as EU and Russian negotiators were meeting in Brussels in hopes of brokering a deal to prevent Moscow from cutting off natural gas to Ukraine, a move that could disrupt gas flows throughout Europe. Some 15 percent of European energy comes from natural gas distributed from Russia through Ukranian pipelines, according to Bloomberg.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine clear $1.4 billion in debt for November and December, and attempted to hike gas rates to the country following the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Obama said the crisis underscored the importance of diversifying Europe’s energy portfolio and investing in renewable fuels. He argued that the energy crisis should also incentivize European leaders to agree to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), saying the agreement would make it easier for the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas to its European allies.

"One of the benefits of a strong trade agreement is it is much easier for me to approve natural gas exports to countries with which we already have a free trade agreement," Obama said.

Obama also said countries like Ukraine needed to find ways to become more efficient with its energy, championing Poland as an example of how former Soviet republics could modernize.

“Ukraine’s economy requires about three times as much energy to reduce the same kind of outputs” as Poland, Obama said, adding that it was “very hard” to remain competitive when a nation was “that inefficient when it comes to energy.”

During a visit to Kiev earlier this year, Vice {resident Biden announced a U.S. aid package centered around energy assistance. Officials from throughout the Obama administration have been dispatched to Ukraine, Slovakia, and Hungary, to help devise ways to reverse the flow of natural gas and provide Ukraine with a short-term supply, so Kiev is not vulnerable to market manipulations from Moscow.

The aid package announced by Biden also included assistance from American engineers and scientists who will help Ukraine boost production in conventional gas fields; develop a regulatory framework and technology to extract “unconventional” gas resources; and demonstrate energy efficient practices to help lessen Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy.

Obama also used his statement in Poland to tout his administration’s new climate change rules, which would mandate existing power plants cut carbon emissions by 30 percent. Obama said addressing climate change “has to be a global effort.”

“It’s important for the United States and EU to set an example by committing to ambitious goals,” Obama said.