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US Lawmakers Respond to Possible Boost in Saudi Oil Production

U.S. legislators are responding cautiously to statements from Saudi Arabia that hint at possible further increases in oil production, saying the United States must do more on its own to reduce its dependency on foreign sources of fuel. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

Saudi Arabia's oil minister (Ali al-Naimi) says the kingdom is willing to boost crude production if sufficient demand exists for the commodity. The remarks came at an oil summit in Jeddah, where Saudi Arabia said it is already increasing production by 200,000 barrels per day, but would consider an even higher output.

In Washington, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence, Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, seemed unimpressed by the Saudi pronouncement.

"It may have a marginal impact [in moderating oil prices]," said Congressman Markey. "But in the end, this crisis is really caused by 12 years of Republican control of Congress. We have gone from 46 percent dependence [on foreign oil] when the Republicans took over the House and Senate in 1995 to 61 percent dependence on imported oil today. We have had an oil and gas agenda. We have thwarted the renewable energy agenda."

Markey was speaking on ABC's This Week program. Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections.

Many Republicans, including President George Bush and the party's presumptive presidential nominee Senator John McCain, agree with Democrats in urging expanded use of alternative energy sources. But Mr. Bush and McCain are also calling for expanded domestic oil drilling to boost America's crude supplies.

Also appearing on ABC's This Week, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas blasted Democrats for opposing new drilling off U.S. coastlines and other areas

"The Democrats have thwarted every effort we have made to increase our [domestic oil] supply," said Kay Bailey Hutchison. "This is a supply-and-demand issue. The demand has skyrocketed mainly because of global [consumption] increases, and we have not done anything about supply. Drilling off-shore on a state-by-state basis is something I think we could do very environmentally safely."

Some energy experts say oil prices have risen, in part, due to speculation by energy traders. The head of the American Petroleum Institute, Red Caveney, says there is a simple way to counteract expectations of continually higher fuel prices that drive market speculation.

"What you need are permanent solutions," said Red Caveney. "That is the signal the markets are looking for. Any scenario you look at, you will find that you need all the energy we can get of every kind."

Caveney echoed calls for increased U.S. oil drilling.

One expert argued that, for years, the United States has underinvested in technologies to make automobiles more fuel-efficient. Jeffrey Sachs, who directs Columbia University's Earth Institute, says the United States has catch-up work to do if it wants to become energy independent.

John McCain and his presumed Democratic rival for the presidency, Senator Barack Obama, say major investments will be needed in renewable and alternative energy sources. Unlike McCain, Obama opposes new off-shore oil drilling and has proposed imposing a windfall profits tax on U.S. oil companies.