|WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday he would not release strategic oil stocks to curb record gasoline prices while he was waging war on terror and accused Democrats of playing politics on energy.|
Bush rejected any solution to the rapid rise in gasoline prices that would use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a national emergency stockpile, to give motorists relief at the pump.
Ideas such as halting shipments to the reserve or releasing some of its supplies would leave America vulnerable in the event of a terrorist attack, Bush said.
\"The idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve ... would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror,\" Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
\"We must not put ourselves in a worse position in this war. And playing politics with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would do just that.\"
But the campaign for Bush\'s rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, accused Bush of avoiding the problem by trying to fault others.
\"Once again, the president is making excuses instead of coming up with a plan to deal with gasoline price rises that are roiling the economy,\" said Kerry spokesman Phil Singer.
U.S. retail gasoline prices have topped $2 per gallon. Yesterday, gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange traded as high as $1.45 a gallon - a new record - amid supply fears ahead of the U.S. summer driving season.
When asked what short-term measures he would use to rein in the prices, Bush did not list any new initiatives but lambasted Democrats for blocking his sweeping energy bill.
While Bush warned of the danger of emptying the reserve - which is stored in salt caverns at four underground sites in Texas and Louisiana - Democratic proposals range from a temporary halt in shipments to it to releasing a portion of the crude it holds.
The stockpile now contains 660 million barrels and the Bush administration wants to accumulate 700 million barrels by next year. Former President Bill Clinton released 30 million barrels of oil from the reserve when gasoline prices soared in the summer and fall of 2000.
Kerry, Bush\'s likely challenger at the November election, has said that he would not tap the reserve now. But he said continuing to fill the stockpile is helping to push up prices.
Going a step further, some Democratic lawmakers want the Bush administration to release up to 60 million barrels of crude.
Bush blames Senate Democrats for blocking a broad energy bill that he says could have secured more supplies.
The legislation is controversial and some Democrats view it as a giveaway to energy companies and also dislike aspects of it that would open some protected lands for drilling.
Bush cited one such provision yesterday, saying that if his plan to allow drilling in Alaska\'s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge had passed, it would be having a \"positive impact\" for U.S. consumers.
Oil industry executives have said that even if ANWR was opened to drilling, it would be about 10 years before a significant amount of oil would get to the market.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, noted that several Republicans played a role in the demise of Bush\'s energy bill last year. Bush\'s Republican party has a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Dorgan said Bush needs to hold to his campaign promise to put pressure on OPEC cartel members. \"I don\'t hear any jawboning going on. The president is largely silent at a time when the OPEC countries have announced they want to cut supply,\" he said.
Story by Caren Bohan
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE