Clinton Wants Heating Oil Reserve

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton on Monday established a home-heating-oil reserve for the Northeast, where fuel shortages put a squeeze on residents trying to stay warm during last winter's severe cold.

Through administrative action, Clinton ordered that crude oil be drawn from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve and exchanged for 2 million barrels of home-heating oil that can be set aside as a separate reserve for Northeastern states. Under current law Clinton lacks the power to actually release the oil, and he appealed to Congress to approve a mechanism for it.

``Time is running out,'' Clinton said. ``Winter may seem far off on this hot day, but if we don't do something now, reserve stocks of heating oil may not be in place before the cold weather comes.''

Clinton announced his action before departing for State College, Pa., to address the National Governors' Association.

Two Republican governors attending the association meeting suggested political motives were behind Clinton's announcement. Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, could face pressure in the fall from Northeast voters for heating oil relief, which could hurt his campaign against Republican George W. Bush, the Texas governor.

``It's a surprise. He's been pretty adamant for only doing that for national security interests,'' Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, a Republican, said of Clinton. ``I don't know what caused him to make this decision, but I suspect there may be none (national security interests). I think it may be a political reason.''

New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman, a Republican, was more blunt. ``This can only be a political response to the campaign because of the pressure put on Al Gore.''

Last month, the House approved an amendment to a $21.7 billion spending bill for energy and water programs that would set up a 2-million-barrel reserve that the energy secretary could tap into when price spikes cause financial hardships in the Northeast.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., also reauthorizes the president's power to withdraw oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a 600-million-barrel stockpile in Texas and Louisiana set up during the oil crisis of 1975 to help meet emergencies. The Senate has not acted on it.

He also urged lawmakers to approve his overall energy proposal, which includes a series of tax incentives, comprehensive electricity restructuring and a reauthorization of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

``The action I take today will leave us far better prepared to face the winter months, but it does not relieve Congress of the responsibility to act,'' Clinton said.

The strategic reserve has been used only once, by President Bush during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.