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High gas prices fuel calls for tapping oil reserve

By Dan Lothian, CNN White House Correspondent
updated 4:13 PM EST, Mon February 27, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gas prices are driving pressure to tap the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve
  • Pressure to tap the reserve is coming from both political parties
  • Three House Dems sent call for an "aggressive strategy" for tapping the reserve
  • Republicans on the presidential trail are using high gas prices as a campaign issue

Washington (CNN) -- While high gas prices are draining the wallets of American motorists, they're also driving heated debate over opening the spigot on the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

President Barack Obama has not said which way he's leaning but in remarks to the National Governors Association on Monday in Washington, he touched on the subject while talking about the need to keep the economic recovery moving forward.

"It means that we've got to develop new sources of American energy," the president said, "so that we're less dependent on foreign oil and yearly spikes in gas prices."

A short time after those remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney released a statement touting domestic oil production as he praised a new TransCanada pipeline project between Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Gulf of Mexico as a model to "encourage American energy production."

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Carney also said that future revised applications for the rejected cross-border Keystone XL pipeline would receive the "important assessment it deserves."

Some argue that pipelines and domestic production are long-term solutions while the rising numbers at the pump need more immediate action.

CNNMoney: Tapping reserves would bring only short-term relief

Pressure is not just coming from Republicans.

Three House Democrats, Reps. Ed Markey, Peter Welch and Rosa DeLauro, sent a letter to the president recently calling for an "aggressive strategy" for releasing oil from the reserve and pointing to past actions that helped drive down prices.

"As we approach the summer driving season, we must carefully consider all immediate options in order to prevent a runaway increase in prices," they wrote.

But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said he believes the reserve should be used in "emergency times when supply is being disrupted," and added, "there are no lines at the gas tanks anywhere in the country as far as I know."

Hoyer maintained there are other reasons for higher gas prices. "My own view that speculation and fear of what might happen is more a cause than the supply issue."

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the country's supply of excess oil and was created to deal with spikes in the cost of oil because of natural disasters, war or terrorist attacks.

Obama tapped the SPR, as it's known, last June, releasing 30 million barrels of oil to compensate for supply disruptions in Libya. Democrats applauded the move but Republicans viewed it as a political stunt.

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Sen. Jim DeMint told CNN's Candy Crowley at the time that Obama was " trying to be the wizard behind the curtain in the 'The Wizard of Oz.'

"He's trying to control our economy from Washington. That's not how it works," DeMint said.

Top Republicans had argued that the threshold for using the reserve should be an emergency, not for gas price reductions.

Former President George W. Bush took similar action after Hurricane Katrina. The elder President Bush and former President Bill Clinton did, too, in 1991 and 2000, respectively.

In all cases oil prices dropped immediately by double digits.

While Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared to telegraph another release when he told CNBC, "There's a case for the use of the (reserves) in some circumstances," a senior administration official told CNN that the situation remained unchanged, that all options are on the table and next steps are still being evaluated.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the presidential trail are using high gas prices as a campaign issue.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich promised $2.50 per gallon if elected, but such promises were dismissed by the president and experts as campaign gimmicks.

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