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In refocusing the program to address domestic emergencies as well as international ones, the administration is drawing from precedents established by President George W. Bush as well as Mr. Clinton. Mr. Bush was the first president to tap the petroleum reserves to address shortfalls caused by hurricanes.

Mr. Bush authorized releases of crude oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast area after Hurricanes Lili in 2002, Ivan in 2004, Katrina in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008. Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton also loaned crude oil to Gulf refineries after barge accidents and ship channel closures temporarily blocked the shipment of crude supplies.

Mr. Shages said the previous two administrations established a pattern of deploying the reserves more frequently and for smaller local emergencies than originally envisioned by authors of the law, thereby establishing precedents that Mr. Obama seeks to build on in creating regional gasoline reserves.

Little opposition seen

The Obama administration’s new direction for the petroleum reserve program for the most part is being carried out quietly, without strenuous or vocal opposition from Congress. Democrats have enthusiastically endorsed the idea of setting up regional gasoline reserves to help their constituents in times of dire need.

House Republicans on the Energy & Commerce Committee have raised questions about what legal authority the department is drawing on in setting up the gasoline reserves as well as the use of “test” oil sales from the petroleum reserves to fund the new gasoline storage sites. The last time the department conducted any test sales was in 1990.

But Republicans have not sought to obstruct the department’s work and have only sought written explanations and congressional briefings providing more details about the department’s plans.

A letter from Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, seeking more information from Mr. Moniz this spring noted that the gasoline reserves were not authorized or funded in the department’s appropriations bill this year or last. Private analysts say that the administration apparently used about $200 million from the $500 million test sale to fund the Northeast gasoline reserve. The department announced plans to create the reserve shortly after conducting the sale.

That leaves about $300 million from the oil sale that the administration could possibly use to set up additional regional gasoline reserves, private analysts say.

Still, despite raising some pointed questions about this unorthodox method of funding the new program and other aspects of the administration’s plans, the committee Republicans did not say they opposed the gasoline project or would raise obstacles to completing it.

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer and other Democrats credit the administration with using “foresight and purpose” to take action to protect the public during fuel emergencies.

“The sudden, massive gas supply shortage after Superstorm Sandy resulted in interminable lines, panic and delivered a gutshot to the region’s economy,” the New York Democrat said. “That’s why we called for regionally placed reserves to ensure an uninterrupted fuel supply in the event of future storms like Sandy.”

Democrats in Congress have long sought more flexible policies that allow use of the petroleum reserves, for example, to quell temporary gas price spikes that often occur in the spring and summertime in the U.S.

While the gasoline reserve project was praised in Democratic quarters, it got a cool reception from some in the gasoline industry, who view it as governmental interference and competition with the private sector.

An analysis by ClearView Energy Partners noted that President Clinton’s heating oil reserve had the effect of discouraging businesses from accumulating private stockpiles, and thus did little to increase energy reserves or security overall. It said the creation of gasoline reserves might have a similar effect, driving down private stockpiles of gasoline.

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