By Mike Lillis - 03/08/11 09:29 PM EST
The average price for a gallon of gas crept above $3.50 this month — the latest in a series of unwelcome milestones as fuel costs have risen steadily over the past year, largely in response to turmoil in the Middle East.
In response, a number of House Democrats — including Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Peter Welch (Vt.) — have urged the administration to dip into the SPR to put a check on prices at the pump. In a recent letter to Obama, the lawmakers said the reserve is "the only tool we possess which can counter supply disruptions and combat crippling price spikes in the short term."
In the upper chamber, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the No. 3 Democrat, have also urged Obama to dip into the SPR to ease the pain on consumers.
"It's a national imperative," Schumer said Monday, according to local reports. "It'll bring our gas prices down, our home heating oil prices down and stop us from being susceptible to the whims of some very bad people overseas."
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the SPR is on the administration's radar.
"It's an option we are considering," Carney said. "But there are a number of factors that go into it — and it is not price-based alone."
A number of Republicans, meanwhile, have slammed the White House for even considering the possibility of tapping the SPR to relieve prices at the pump.
"It was not intended to be a tool to manipulate the market or provide political relief," Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said Monday in a statement.
Hoyer said the emotional debate highlights the need for policymakers to adopt a comprehensive energy plan that could nullify the destabilizing effects of foreign affairs on the nation's fuel prices. Such a strategy, he said, should include greater investment in nuclear energy, an expansion of drilling for domestic natural gas and an enhanced focus on green alternatives.
"We need, in my view, to expand existing sources and continue research and development of renewables and alternative sources of energy," he said.