As gasoline prices hit record highs in the United States, some Democratic members of the U.S. Senate are urging President Bush to release millions of barrels of oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
This week, for the first time in history, the average price of gasoline in the United States topped $2 per gallon, putting pressure on the Bush administration in the middle of a presidential election year.
New York Senator Charles Schumer leads a group of Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress who are calling on President Bush to begin releasing millions of barrels of oil from the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to increase supply and ease prices.
"These out-of-control prices are burning a hole in Americans' wallets," said Senator Schumer. "They are putting at risk the economic recovery and the administration insists on throwing fuel on the fire [making the situation worse]. So what are we doing? We are calling on the president to use our one ace in the hole [perfect solution]. The one way we can stop OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] and big oil from raising prices through the roof and that is by releasing some oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve."
The Democrats are also calling on the Bush administration to stop shipping 170,000 barrels of oil a day to the salt caves in the state of Louisiana that hold the emergency supply.
The reserve currently holds nearly 660 million barrels and has a 700 million barrel capacity.
Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski says President Bush needs to put pressure on OPEC nations to increase the supply of oil. "Number One, use the power of the presidency to jawbone [convince] OPEC to turn on the spigot [increase the flow]," said Senator Mikulski. "Second, we need to use market forces, but be prudent in terms of our national security. What we are asking is a temporary suspension of filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, where the private sector is now competing with the public sector."
Despite the pressure from Congress on what is likely to become an election year issue, the Bush administration is resisting calls to stop filling or to tap the reserve in an effort to lower gas prices.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says, while the president believes prices are too high, the reserve should only be used in times of urgent crisis. "That was created for times of emergency, like an attack on the homeland or a severe disruption in the supply and that is why the National Petroleum Reserve was created," he said. "Heaven forbid that we have another attack, but if we do, we need to make sure that we have the sources of energy there to respond."
Mr. McClellan says the administration is in close contact with the world's oil producers and is urging them not to take any action that would harm the U.S. economy or hurt American consumers.
Saudi Arabia has suggested that OPEC raise its current oil output and a decision could come as early as this week, when ministers from the oil cartels' member nations are expected to meet in Amsterdam.