U.S. oil reserves sought for relief

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Capitol Hill Democratic leaders fired back Thursday at Republicans’ accusations they have no quick fix for the nation’s energy crunch, saying they support drilling in more than 88 million federal acres nationwide.

Democrats also continued to urge President Bush to tap into the nation’s emergency oil reserves to help knock down the skyrocketing prices of gasoline at the pump, which is now at a nationwide average of more than $4.10 per gallon.

“Let’s be clear: Democrats support increasing the domestic production of petroleum and other energy resources,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, at a news event by House Democratic leaders to defend their energy policy.

Republicans repeatedly have blasted Democrats for opposing drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and offshore. Republicans say the Democrats energy policy focuses too heavily on renewable energy, such as biofuels and wind, solar and hydroelectric power, and does nothing to immediately increase the supply of oil.

“The American people want us to do something about the energy crisis that we’re facing, yet they bring no bills to the floor that will do anything about increasing the supply to bring down the cost of fuel in America,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Thursday.

But Democratic leaders said allowing drilling in ANWR and other environmentally sensitive areas is unnecessary because oil companies already are sitting on leases to drill on 68 million acres of federal land in the contiguous 48 states, and about another 20 million in areas of Alaska outside of ANWR.

“When it comes to drilling, we’re saying, take yes for an answer,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We’ve got it. We’re for it. No problem.”

House Democrats have proposed a “use it or lose it” bill that would force oil companies to surrender oil and gas leases on federal land they’re not drilling on and prohibit these companies from acquiring new leases. Democrats have accused the oil industry of “warehousing” the 88 million acres of land on which they already hold leases so as to keep the domestic oil supply lower and prices higher.

House Republicans last month blocked a Democratic attempt to pass the measure, but the majority party has vowed to bring it up again.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Republican calls for drilling in the ANWR “an absolute hoax on the part of the Republicans and this Bush administration.”

“They made this bed. This is their policy. This is the product of it: $4 plus a gallon,” she said.

Mrs. Pelosi also wrote to Mr. Bush this week urging him to release oil stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for domestic use, a tactic used by President George. H.W. Bush and President Clinton.

“Taking oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a careful, responsible way is the fastest way to bring down the price at the pump,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Mr. Bush last month agreed to a Democratic request and halted new oil shipments to the reserve. Democrats say the move helped lower the price of oil by $10 a barrel.

Oil industry groups, however, say opening up the reserve would do little to lower gas prices.

“America’s greatest strategic reserves lie beneath taxpayer-owned lands - including ANWR’s northern coastal plain and the outer continental shelf - that are currently off limits to energy production,” said Daniel Kish, senior vice president of the Institute for Energy Research.

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