- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

House Republicans, divided over President Clinton's release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, demanded an explanation from the White House yesterday but said they will not try to block the release right now.
Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Commerce energy subcommittee, contended that the president overstepped his legal authority, but he is not considering a lawsuit or legislation to block the release of 30 million barrels of crude oil from the 571-million barrel reserve next month.
"I guess you could go into federal court, but we're not contemplating that," Mr. Barton said. Republicans say the president has not met the requirements of the law that the reserve be tapped only in case of a national emergency or a disruption in oil supplies.
Mr. Barton said he will ask the president to submit a written legal justification for the release while he continues to "research the options" to determine whether there are other ways to stop it.
He intends to seek a House vote on a non-binding resolution disapproving the president's action.
"This does not appear to be good public policy and risks setting the dangerous precedent of using the [Strategic Petroleum Reserve] as a tool to manipulate the market," he said.
Many other Republicans feel the same. "This is a crass political move," said Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona.
But Northeastern Republicans, where consumers facing steep price increases for residential-heating oil stand to benefit the most from the release, generally supported the president. Northeast inventories are down 70 percent from a year ago.
Rep. H. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican, said the administration's intervention in the market, which by yesterday had helped reduce crude-oil prices by 19 percent from highs near $38 a barrel, is justified as long as oil prices are dictated more by the 11-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries than by the laws of supply and demand.
"An SPR release counteracts OPEC's anti-market policies, at least in the short run when inventories are low," he said.
Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican and chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also said he supports the release.
Seventy Democrats wrote Mr. Barton yesterday opposing any effort to block the release, contending that "serious shortages" of residential-heating oil on the East Coast justified taking drastic action.
Administration officials have testified that the release is needed to "avert a supply emergency" in the Northeast, where a cold snap this winter could cause a sharp spike in prices and temporary supply disruptions.
Vice President Al Gore, who called for the oil release, noted while campaigning yesterday that "so far it looks like it is having the intended effect."
The price of oil dropped another 3.5 percent to $30.35 yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange after Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz, attending an OPEC summit in Venezuela, said the kingdom is ready to pump as much oil as the market needs to stabilize prices. Heating oil for October delivery dropped 4.1 percent to 90.9 cents per gallon.

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