Welch says he supports releasing oil from national reserve

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he supports efforts to release oil from the nation’s strategic reserve as a short term way to help reduce gas prices.

In the long term, Welch says the country must make significant investments in renewable power sources as part of an overall energy independence plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Oil has been withdrawn from the National Strategic Reserve three times since its creation in the mid 1970s. It currently holds about 700 million barrels of oil. This represents a roughly 2 month supply of the country’s oil imports.

In 1991, former president George Bush authorized the removal of 17 million barrels shortly before the Gulf War.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton withdrew 30 million barrels to ease concerns about high heating oil prices. And, in 2005, President Bush used the Reserve to deal with a disruption of oil supplies after Hurricane Katrina.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Welch says he supports a plan to make a fourth withdrawal from the Reserve. But he says the proposal is caught up in a bitter partisan fight in Congress over offshore drilling.

(Welch) “I think we’ve got to take what steps we can in the short term to provide some immediate relief. And there’s a certain irony here because my view is that if you disagree about A and B, if you can do C, and that’s a good thing, let’s do it. And I would say some extremists in the Congress who are just saying drill now drill tomorrow and drill forever have blocked us from doing things that have worked to bring down, on a temporary basis, the price of a gallon of gas."

(Kinzel) Welch says he backs a plan that would allow the Bush Administration to actively lease land in Alaska’s Naval Petroleum reserve. This is land that’s located to the west of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve – a place that Welch wants to keep off limits to any new drilling.

Welch wants to use revenue from these new leases to finance a comprehensive renewable energy program.

(Welch) “We have to have investment in those alternatives and that requires a sustainable revenue source so that we can have a clean energy fund nationally, much like we have here in the state of Vermont. So if we have a compromise, if that’s what it takes to get from here to there, that embeds for sure a commitment to an alternative energy strategy, then I would be open to that."

(Kinzel) Welch also supports a plan to re-regulate the trading of energy futures on commodity markets. He says this proposal could cut oil prices by as much as 25 percent within a matter of months. But he says this approach is also tied up in the current Congressional gridlock over energy issues.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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