Welch says his plan to suspend shipments to the national reserve is gaining support

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(Host) Democratic Congressman Peter Welch says he’s encouraged that a number of prominent Republicans are now backing his plan to suspend shipments to the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Welch says the proposal is part of a larger plan that’s designed to reduce gasoline prices by as much as 75 cents a gallon.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Several months ago, many Republicans opposed the plan to suspend shipments to the national reserve.  Every day, roughly 100,000 gallons of oil are deposited there.

But rising gas prices have caused a number of these Republicans to change their minds. In fact, Senate Republicans are now including the plan as part of their comprehensive energy bill.

Congressman Peter Welch isn’t surprised that the plan is developing bipartisan support.

(Welch) “I’m telling you there’s an immense amount of concern around here. Folks from many districts, Republican or Democrat, are hearing from their folks back home that the price at the pump is really clobbering them. So I think that there is … an intensity and sense of urgency about trying to address the energy crisis."

(Kinzel) It’s estimated that this plan could help reduce gas prices by between 5 and 10 cents a gallon because it will increase the supply of oil.

Welch is backing another approach that some Vermont oil officials say could cut gas prices by as much as 75 cents a gallon.  It’s the repeal of a law that allows the un-regulated trading of energy futures.

(Welch) “All of the economists acknowledge that speculation of these unregulated forward energy markets is now a big factor and at one point one hedge fund in home heating fuels owned about 85% of the new futures market. And they were able to manipulate the price."

(Kinzel) Congress is also considering a plan to eliminate the federal gas tax during the summer months.  This would save consumers about 18 cents a gallon.  Welch isn’t supporting this idea because he’s worried that it will rob the federal Transportation Fund of critical revenue.

(Welch) “In the last fiscal year Vermonters paid about $62 million in federal gas taxes. That’s a lot of money. But Washington sent back to Vermont $203 million to help us with our transportation needs. What I hear from folks and experience  myself driving around the state is that we’ve got significant infrastructure burdens."

(Kinzel) Welch says he’s hopeful that Congress will act on his energy proposals in the next few weeks.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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