Senate Votes to Stop Putting Oil in Petroleum Reserve

WASHINGTON, May 13 -The Senate today passed a measure cosponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders to suspend oil deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supplies and lower prices for gasoline and other fuels.

At a news conference afterward, Sanders (I-Vt.) said the 97 to 1 vote to suspend the shipments until the end of the year was a first step by Congress to confront the gasoline price crisis.

"The Senate voted to stop the Bush administration from continuing the absurd policy of adding 70,000 barrels of oil a day to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which already is 97 percent full," Sanders said. "This is a small but important step forward in providing some relief to consumers who are paying record prices at the gas pump."

Average gasoline prices in the U.S. have gone up for seven straight weeks to a record $3.72 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Gasoline costs 29 percent more than last year.

"We need a comprehensive approach to resolve the current energy crisis," said Sanders, a member of both the Senate energy and environment committees. "Long term, we must aggressively transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and foreign oil into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Short term, we must take some very immediate steps to protect the American people against the soaring prices of gas and oil."

The petroleum reserve legislation was part of a package introduced last week by Sanders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others. That measure, still awaiting a Senate vote, also would impose windfall profit taxes on oil companies, eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies, limit speculation in oil futures and give the government the power to prosecute price gougers.

Oil industry analysts at Goldman Sachs, the investment banking firm, have estimated that continuing to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with oil over the past several months has driven up the pump price of gasoline by as much as 25 cents a gallon.

"This is a good start but much, much more must be done," Sanders concluded. "In my view, we need to pass a windfall profits tax on the oil companies and deal aggressively with financial institutions and hedge funds that are speculating in oil futures and driving the price higher that it otherwise would be."