Wednesday, May 19, 2004

In September 2000, George W. Bush was surely right to criticize Bill Clinton for playing politics with America’s long-term national security. (Mr. Clinton released tens of millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in an effort to force energy prices down in order to increase the presidential prospects of Al Gore.) Today, President Bush is right to reject demands from Sen. John Kerry and other Democrats to divert oil from the SPR to the market in order to force gasoline prices down.

Mr. Bush’s rationale today is the same as it was nearly four years ago. “The strategic reserve is an insurance policy meant for sudden disruption of our energy supply,” Mr. Bush asserted in September 2000. The SPR, he rightly argued, “should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security.”

The need to fill the reserve, which was established following the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo against the United States, has become more urgent than ever in the wake of recent terrorist attacks against oil installations in both Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

For more than two-and-a-half years, the Bush administration steadily has been filling the oil reserve. The SPR currently holds 659 million barrels, about 40 million shy of the goal of 700 million barrels. That level is the equivalent of a nearly 60-day supply of U.S. petroleum imports, which totaled 12.8 million barrels per day in March, a level that is more than twice the volume of daily U.S. imports in 1973. While turmoil in the Middle East would not shut off oil imports from major Western Hemisphere suppliers, any Middle East supply disruption would send the world price soaring, making SPR supplies far more valuable than they are today.

Mr. Kerry wants to divert the current SPR fill-rate of 105,000 barrels per day — about one-half of 1 percent of America’s total daily oil consumption of 20 million barrels. That’s hardly enough to make a dent in the gasoline market.

Coming from a family that owns five palatial, energy-consuming homes, its very own Gulfstream II jet, a 42-foot powerboat, eight vehicles (including two Jeeps and a Chevy Suburban) and a Harley, Mr. Kerry has no standing when it comes to dealing with energy problems or the current surge in gasoline prices. Nevertheless, Mr. Kerry wants middle- and working-class Americans to believe that he truly feels their pain.

After having spent the past three years leading the Democratic opposition to the Bush administration’s efforts to expand domestic oil supplier, Mr. Kerry needs to keep his hands off America’s long-term strategic insurance policy.

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