WASHINGTON — Most Tennessee and Georgia lawmakers are supportive of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request for President Bush to begin selling a portion of the 706 million-gallon Strategic Petroleum Reserve to bring down gas prices.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is one exception, calling the move, if approved by President Bush, “shortsighted.”
“The fact is, (the reserve) contains 57 days of oil,” Sen. Corker said. “If you released all of it on the market, it might have a very short-term, momentary effect, but then it’d leave us vulnerable. The impact it would have would be negligible for energy costs, but it’d be far-reaching in terms of our security.”
In a letter to the president dated Tuesday, Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., said the high price of gasoline, now more than $4 a gallon on average, warrants the release of a “small” amount of oil from the reserve.
The reserve, the largest stockpile of petroleum in the world, is held in several Gulf Coast salt caverns and is at 97 percent capacity.
“Releasing oil from the reserve is a tool to manage our national and economic security and, when judiciously used, will in no way jeopardize our national security,” Speaker Pelosi wrote.
The United States uses about 20 million barrels of oil a day.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., called tapping the reserve an “acceptable short-term proposal,” though he said Congress’ focus should be on more long-term solutions such as alternative fuels and increasing domestic oil production.
Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said Speaker Pelosi’s letter is a welcome acknowledgment from Democrats that increasing oil supplies might help lower prices. Democrats largely have rejected Republican calls to open more areas to oil drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
President Bush “could take 25 percent of the (reserve) and throw it on the market, and that would effectively stop (oil) speculation,” Rep. Wamp said. “Even though it’s a short-term infusion, it would be such a shot in the arm to supply that prices would come down.”
Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., said he has been supportive of increased oil drilling all along, in contrast to Democratic Party leaders. He’s also supportive of tapping into reserves, he said.
“Anything we can do, which includes drilling, to bring down the price of oil, we should do it,” he said.
Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., said he cautiously is supportive of tapping the reserve but said Speaker Pelosi’s letter is a smokescreen that gives Democrats cover with environmentalists.
“I don’t have any problem tapping into it to some extent, but I don’t think we should come anywhere close to depleting it, by any means,” Rep. Deal said. “I think this is, in part at least, a political ploy to take pressure off the Democrats for why they won’t agree to drilling.”
Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., could not be reached for comment.