The Democrats barely mentioned the word “energy” in theirplatform at the August convention, but President Clinton put thespotlight on energy issues last week in Washington with hisdecision to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from theStrategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), as well as a record $400 millionof funding for energy assistance to low-income households for thiswinter.

Key Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House spent much ofthe week attacking the president for his use of the SPR in anon-emergency situation, saying it was illegal and was politicallydesigned to help Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore. ButClinton countered that the administration simply was trying toboost home heating oil stocks in the Northeast to avoid a repeat ofthe high prices of last winter.

Nationwide, distillate inventories — which include heating oil— currently are 19% below the level they were a year ago,according to the Department of Energy (DOE). On the East Coast,where 36% of the households rely on oil as a home heating fuel, thefall-off is even more dramatic: distillate inventories are down 40%from last year, the DOE reported. In New England, stocks are about65% under the 1999 level.

The “temporary infusion” of 30 million barrels of oil into themarket is expected to add an additional three-to-five millionbarrels of heating oil this winter, said Energy Secretary BillRichardson. Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) of the Senate Energyand Natural Resources called this “a drop in the bucket,” sayingthe impact on Northeast supplies and prices this winter wouldlikely be minimal.

In addition to tapping the SPR, Clinton directed theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help states identify waysto use more and different kinds of home heating oil whileminimizing environmental effects; federal agencies to contractearly for heating oil supplies to reduce instability in the marketthis winter; public utility commissions to ensure that industrialand commercial facilities (such as interruptible gas customers)which use heating oil as a backup fuel have adequate reserves; andSecretary Richardson to meet with the National Petroleum Council todiscuss oil production this fall and winter.

“Taken together, these steps will enhance our nation’s energysecurity and help to cushion working families from high heatingbills. It builds on our decision in July to establish [a] homeheating oil reserve in the Northeast,” Clinton told reporters.

He further challenged the Republican-led Congress to “get off[the] dime and take action” with respect to electric restructuringlegislation, and to reauthorize the SPR instead of “trying to makethis [an issue] about drilling in the [Arctic] National WildlifeRefuge.”

He also called on Congress to “immediately pass” theadministration’s proposed package of tax incentives for oil andnatural gas production (i.e. expensing of geological andgeophysical costs), as well as tax credits to promote alternativeand renewable energy sources.

To increase energy security in the long term, Clinton urgedlawmakers to support continuing investment in energy recoverytechnologies, expanded research in the development of fuel cells,and greater reliance on energy efficiency and conservationmeasures.

But the president failed to mention the one issue that is mostimportant to oil and gas producers: increased access to federalonshore and offshore lands. Gas producers contend that state andfederal legislators will have to address this issue quickly inorder for the industry to meet the nation’s growing gas appetite.

Susan Parker

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