Obama Urges Opening Up Oil Reserves

In a reversal, Barack Obama proposed Monday that the government sell 70 million barrels of oil from its strategic petroleum stockpiles. Video by AP
By Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 5, 2008

LANSING, Mich., Aug. 4 -- Sen. Barack Obama called Monday for using oil from the nation's strategic reserves to lower gasoline prices, the second time in less than a week that he has modified a position on energy issues, as he and Sen. John McCain seek to find solutions to a topic that is increasingly dominating the presidential race.

In a speech here, Obama outlined a plan to reduce an addiction to foreign oil that he said is "one of the most dangerous and urgent threats this nation has ever faced." He repeated his call for a $1,000 "energy rebate" for low- and middle-income families that would be paid for by a windfall-profits tax on oil companies.

The Obama campaign did not predict how much releasing reserves would lower gas prices. But it said prices at the pump went down more than 19 percent within two weeks when President Bill Clinton made such a move in 2000.

His proposal comes a month after Obama said he would consider using oil from the reserves only in a "genuine emergency," such as "terrorist acts." Aides said the plan is not a reversal because he would replace light crude oil in the reserves with less-expensive heavy crude. They also noted that the senator from Illinois last week described the country's economic conditions as an "emergency."

The Bush administration said it opposed using oil from the reserves when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for it last month. McCain mocked the idea on Monday.

The proposal, along with Obama's comments last week that he would consider expanding offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy bill, illustrated how both candidates are trying to find quick fixes to $4-a-gallon gas and other rising energy costs. McCain had also opposed additional offshore drilling until reversing his position in June, and he has called for a suspension of the federal gas tax.

But their proposals reflect a problem both candidates face: There are few ways to dramatically reduce gas prices, even as voters demand solutions.

Obama emphasized on Monday that using reserves is a temporary fix and that drilling is not "a particularly meaningful short-term or long-term solution." McCain has said that drilling would have a "psychological" benefit for consumers; his proposal to suspend the 18-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax was ignored by lawmakers on Capitol Hill and criticized by economists, who said it would not lead to a noticeable change in prices.

On the stump, McCain talks frequently about electric power, a subject that energy experts say will do little to affect gas prices. His plan to build 45 nuclear power plants, which he will highlight with a visit to a Michigan plant Tuesday, would take decades.

McCain's aides said Obama's proposal to tap the nation's oil reserves amounts to his second position on the issue in a month. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said the idea is "not a substitute for a real plan."

"The strategic oil reserve exists for America's national security strategy, not Barack Obama's election strategy," Bounds said.

At a small-business forum near Philadelphia on Monday, McCain called on Obama to insist that Congress return from its August recess to confront high gas prices and the energy crisis. He urged immediate drilling off the nation's coast.

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