House Dems float bill to tap U.S. oil reserves

A group of House Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to tap the country’s oil reserves in response to rising prices. 

“This is the time to deploy a responsible amount of reserves before it is too late,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the author of the new bill, told reporters.

Markey's bill represents the latest effort by Democrats to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a 727-million-barrel emergency stockpile of oil. But the proposal faces opposition from Republicans and at least one senior House Democrat.

The legislation would require that over the next six months at least 30 million barrels of oil be released from the SPR. President Obama ultimately has the authority to release oil from the SPR.

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Markey said the bill would prevent gas prices from increasing 25 to 30 percent.

The lawmakers blamed market speculation in part for driving oil prices into the triple digits, citing concerns by a Commodity Futures Trading Commission commissioner about the issue.

“We must send a signal to those speculators that we will not allow them to play games with our economy,” Markey said.

Markey also targeted a new energy plan released by House Republicans Thursday that calls for boosting domestic oil-and-gas production and streamline permitting for various types of energy projects, including nuclear power plants.

“Their plan is not an all of the above strategy, it is an oil above all strategy,” Markey said.

“The drill, baby, drill mantra won’t reduce our oil dependency and it won’t provide relief from volatile oil prices either,” Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said.

Analysts say expanded oil and gas production in the United States will likely have only a minimal affect on gas prices.

But the House Democrats acknowledged Thursday that releasing U.S. oil reserves is not a long-term solution.

“We have a short-term problem, we have a tool that can provide short-term relief,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), another co-sponsor of the bill, said.

Welch said Democrats want to pass legislation to move the country off of its reliance on oil, but they are being blocked by the Republican majority.

Top Senate Democrats, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committe Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), have also called for tapping the reserve.

But the SPR legislation could face an uphill battle in the House, with Republicans largely criticizing such an effort and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) saying Wednesday that he opposes tapping the reserve.

At the same time, administration officials have said they are considering tapping the SPR, but have cautioned that it is meant to address supply disruptions, not price spikes.

The legislation would also require that the SPR in the future include some refined petroleum products like gasoline and diesel fuel that could be released in the event of an emergency. It would also allow the Energy Department to find new oil storage facilities. Lastly, the bill would ensure that no more than 10 percent of the SPR is deployed at one time.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (R-Conn.).