Senate candidates split on oil policy

Democrat urges action to cut price of gasoline.
Sunday, May 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Nancy Farmer criticized President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., for refusing to act on the high cost of gasoline.

Speaking to a handful of people gathered Friday at the MFA Oil gas station on West Boulevard, Farmer mirrored the stance of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, saying the Bush administration should suspend the delivery of oil into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. She said the move would reduce the price of gas by 10 to 25 cents a gallon.

Farmer, who seeks her party’s nomination to challenge Bond in the November general election, said the reserve has reached 94 percent of its capacity.

While some Democrats have pushed the Bush administration to release petroleum from the reserve, both Farmer and Kerry have stopped short of that, suggesting instead that the federal government temporarily stop the stockpiling.

Kerry in his weekly Democratic radio address on Saturday said the energy crisis is putting the U.S. economy at risk. In the long run, he said, the United States should strive for energy independence by investing in alternative fuels and in new technologies that are more fuel-efficient.

Farmer said that in recent months Bush has doubled the amount of oil going into the strategic reserve, from 150,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

“(This is) limiting the supply on the market,” she said.

After prices have dropped, Farmer said, the government could resume filling the remaining 6 percent of the reserve.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve at Bayou Choctaw and West Hackberry, La., and in Big Hill and Bryan Mound, Texas, held a total of 659.5 million barrels of oil as of Friday. That’s enough to match current U.S. use for 35 days. The reserve has been tapped only twice in the past 29 years: by former President George Bush in 1991 and four years ago by President Bill Clinton. Energy economists say tapping the reserve is neither simple nor routine.

President Bush has repeatedly rejected the idea of tapping into the strategic preserve. “That petroleum reserve is in place in case of major disruptions of energy supplies to the United States,” he said Wednesday. “The idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror.”

Bond spokesman Rob Ostrander said the senator believes the strategic reserve should be filled.

“The most important thing we can do to attack these high oil prices is pass the comprehensive energy bill that’s before the Senate now. … Unfortunately, that bill has been filibustered by Democrats since November,” Ostrander said.

He added that Bond believes the strategic reserve exists as a petroleum supply in case of a national emergency or terrorist attack, not as a means of reducing oil prices.

The price of gas at the MFA station where Farmer spoke was $1.96 per gallon for regular unleaded. The national average was $2.023 as of Friday, according to AAA’s Web site.

Even so, some Columbia residents seem relatively unconcerned.

“It doesn’t matter if gas is $6 a gallon. I’m going to pay it because I want to drive,” said Annie Perry, who was at the MFA gas station Friday and drives a 2002 Chrysler 300M. “I do know some people with bigger vehicles that are selling them. Some friends have an Excursion that now costs them $87 to fill up. They are going on a trip and then getting rid of it.”

Perry said gas prices aren’t that out of control when compared with the soaring prices of other products such as milk.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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