- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

Richard B. Cheney says the Clinton administration's new plan to release crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve could threaten national security.
"Our problem with releasing the oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is that [the reserve] really was created for a special purpose: a wartime emergency, the possible loss of major supplies of oil because of some international crisis of some kind," said Mr. Cheney, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, who was defense secretary during the Persian Gulf war.
"And if we start putting it out there a little bit at a time to try to manage prices, then we've got bigger problems," he added, appearing yesterday on ABC's "This Week."
The oil reserve was not created for "tweaking prices six weeks before the election," Mr. Cheney, a former executive at Halliburton, a Texas-based oil technology firm, said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Cheney expressed his concerns about dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in appearances on three political talk shows yesterday.
As he did so, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and left open the possibility the Clinton administration would tap the oil reserve again before the Nov. 7 election as a cushion against possible heating-oil shortages.
On Friday, President Clinton at the urging of Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee announced plans to release 30 million of the 571 million stockpiled barrels of oil in reserve.
"After 30 days, after 30 million barrels, the president will make an assessment and see where we are," the energy secretary said.
Asked if Mr. Clinton might allow more oil to flow from the reserve before the election, Mr. Richardson said, "It's up to him."
Previously, the president and vice president opposed using oil from the reserve to help consumers. Both Mr. Cheney and Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush have charged that the Clinton-Gore pre-election about-face is politically motivated.
"Because it's six weeks before the election and they're worried about prices, all of a sudden Al Gore is for releasing oil … to manipulate prices," said Mr. Cheney. "It's hard not to view it in a political context."
But Mr. Richardson, on CBS, retorted, "Our goal is not to manipulate prices.
"We are preparing for potential disruptions, potential shortages. The president acted because stocks were so low," said the secretary, who also appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
On CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Mark Fabiani, deputy campaign manager for the Gore campaign, acknowledged Mr. Gore had a "different position" on this issue earlier this year than he does today. But he said that's because the "situation was different" then.
"Home heating oil supplies were not at crisis levels. Oil prices were not at historic highs," said Mr. Fabiani.
He described both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney as "oil men," who "don't want more oil on the market because that will reduce the price, and that will hurt big oil companies."
In his network television appearances yesterday, Mr. Cheney expressed doubt the Clinton-Gore plan would actually make more heating oil available to help those who need it this winter.
"Part of the difficulty here is that it's not just a crude oil availability problem. It is also a refinery problem," he said on CNN. "There haven't been any new refineries built in this country in the last 10 years" because "the red tape is so great and so burdensome … it's almost impossible."
Because of increased demand, Mr. Cheney said, refineries in the United States are "now running very close to capacity, 96 to 97 percent."
"If your refineries are already operating at 96 to 97 percent of capacity, even if you give them more crude, they're not likely to be able to produce a significant increase in heating oil," he said on Fox.
The Republican vice-presidential nominee repeatedly charged that the Clinton administration does not have an energy policy in place and has increased this country's reliance on foreign oil.
On ABC, Mr. Cheney said domestic production is lower than any time since 1954. And because imports have risen 34 percent in the past few years, the United States now relies on foreign countries for more than half its oil, he said.
"Our demand continues to grow as our economy grows, and it's all being satisfied as the result of imports," he said.
Both Mr. Cheney and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, expressed fear the United States would be "vulnerable" if Iraq's Saddam Hussein elected to cut off oil to this country. "Saddam … sitting there on a 100 billion-barrel reserve of oil, is in a position to tweak the international oil markets and create problems if he wants to," Mr. Cheney said on CNN.
Mr. Richardson insisted other countries could make up the difference, but Mr. Hagel was not convinced.
"We are all now subject to political blackmail," Mr. Hagel said on CBS.
In all his network television appearances, Mr. Cheney vigorously denied Mr. Gore's latest claims of having been involved in establishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
"He wasn't [there]. I was. President Ford signed that legislation in 1975. I was then working for him in the White House," Mr. Cheney said on Fox. He noted that Mr. Gore was not elected to Congress until 1976.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was set up as insurance against interruption of oil supplies after the 1973 Arab oil embargo caused near-unprecedented shortages at the gasoline pump. Except for two practice drawdowns, the only previous use of the SPR was during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
On CNN, Mr. Cheney called the proposal to use oil from the reserve a "Band-Aid on a serious national problem, six weeks before the election."
Asked what he and Mr. Bush would do to reduce problems, Mr. Cheney said on ABC: "We'd fully fund the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. That's one way you can get help to those people immediately who need it." On CNN, he said there is $550 million available in that program.
He said they are also committed to finding alternative energy sources. "Congress has tried hard to open up ANWR in Alaska, the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve. We know there's oil there. It's right next to the pipeline in the Prudhoe Bay area. It could be easily developed, and Bill Clinton and Al Gore have blocked it every single step of the way," said Mr. Cheney.
Cokie Roberts, co-host of "This Week," countered, "There's tremendous environmental groups' opposition to that."
Mr. Cheney didn't dispute that. "You can't have it both ways. I mean, either we're going to produce at home or we're not," he said.

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