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Obama officials rip into GOP gasoline bills

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Posted on March 28, 2012 at 9:22 am
by Puneet Kollipara

Obama administration officials ripped into GOP proposals to tie Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases to increases in federal oil and gas land leases and to require new analysis of the economic impacts of several gasoline-related environmental regulations.

A new GOP bill would require a new interagency panel to analyse how certain future Environmental Protection Agency rules might impact gasoline prices and jobs, but an EPA official said the bill wouldn’t reduce prices at the pump and could threaten Clean Air Act health protections.

The Gasoline Regulations Act targets a number of looming EPA regulations, including one for cutting sulfur in fuel by two-thirds, U.S. ozone standards and refinery emissions standards.

Gina McCarthy, an EPA assistant administrator, said in written testimony that the bill appears to use high gas prices as the reason to rollback public health protections, but those protections have little to do with gasoline prices. The bill would also duplicate analysis that is already done by officials.

“This legislation also delays — indefinitely — rules that EPA has not even proposed,” McCarthy said. “In short, this legislation does not address the reasons for the recent increase in the price of gasoline, while rolling back core aspects of the Clean Air Act — which was passed on a bipartisan basis and signed by a Republican president.”

Gasoline prices have steadily become a growing political point as prices rise near the $4 mark for the first time since 2008. The national average hit $3.91 Wednesday, a rise of 2 cents, according to the AAA gas gauge. Houston drivers are paying $3.87, or 9 cents below the record-high price of $3.96 in July 2008.

As prices have risen, the Obama administration has touted an “all-of-the-above” energy plan that officials say is the best long-term solution to the rising energy costs. Republicans, however, have argued the administration should remove unnecessary regulations and spur domestic drilling.

Republicans have also recently proposed that a 1 percent increase in federal lands leased for oil and gas production be required for every percentage point drawdown in oil from the strategic reserve, a 700-million-barrel stockpile on the Gulf Coast for emergency supply disruptions.

That proposal also came under fire by Obama administration officials.

Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Chris Smith said in written testimony that the Strategic Energy Production Act would make it more difficult for to respond promptly to supply interruptions in crude oil. He argued that the bill would also make release from the strategic reserve more dependent on actions of potential lessees.

“It would also limit DOE’s ability to manage the SPR on a day to day basis, in which releases occasionally are necessary for the routine maintenance and operation of the reserve,” Smith added.

Republicans are proposing the legislation in seeking to position themselves against Democrats and the White House on oil and gas policy, which has surged to the forefront of political debate in the wake of higher gasoline prices. GOP lawmakers insisted Wednesday their legislation would increase oil supplies and decrease refining costs, helping put downward pressure on gasoline prices.

Democrats have called for cracking down on what they view as excessive speculation in oil markets and urged the White House to consider releasing oil from the strategic reserve.

But analysts have repeatedly said policymakers have few, if any, short-term tools to address gasoline prices, which are tied to oil prices set on global markets.

James Burkhard, managing director at IHS CERA, a research firm, said in written testimony said the current run-up in oil prices, the biggest determinant of what consumers pay at the pump, stems from geopolitics, specifically from uncertainty linked to the Iranian nuclear issue.

Analysts have said increased U.S. drilling would take years to kick in and would have, at best, a fractional impact on oil prices. They also have said the strategic reserve is intended for use only during supply emergencies, not as a price-smoothing tool as some Democrats have advocated.

Obama has ripped into GOP proposals to expand drilling into new waters and lands as an election-year “bumper sticker” that wouldn’t reduce gasoline prices. He has touted an “all-of-the-above” strategy of more oil, gas, renewable energy and fuel-efficiency boosts to cut oil use as a long-term strategy for U.S. energy independence.

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Oil surges on speculation of supply disruption, U.S. stimulus

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Oil surged above $100 a barrel on speculation supplies will be disrupted after a report that Iran will hold drills to close the Strait of Hormuz and that the Federal Reserve may announce additional stimulus measures.

Crude advanced as much as 3.6 percent after the state-run Fars news agency reported the military maneuvers will be “soon,” citing Parvis Sorouri, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee. The Strait of Hormuz is a bottleneck for oil exports from the Persian Gulf. The Fed is scheduled to release a statement on monitory policy later today.

“There have been a number of rumors floating around the market today,” said Tom Bentz, a director with BNP Paribas Prime Brokerage Inc. in New York. “I saw the Iran story yesterday but those headlines seem to have got traction this morning. There are also rumors for further action by the Fed, but where they come from I don’t know. In this electronic world things can jump quickly and trigger stops.”

Crude for January delivery gained $1.91, or 2 percent, to $99.68 a barrel at 11:07 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, futures touched $101.25 a barrel. Prices have risen 9.1 percent this year.

Brent oil for January settlement increased $2.07, or 1.9 percent, to $109.33 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange.

“There are no headlines to explain this move,” said Stephen Schork, president of Schork Group Inc. in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “One has to look at the usual suspects. It was probably a fat-fingered mistake or a margin call.”

Iran Statement

Crude pared gains after an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Strait of Hormuz isn’t closed. The comments on the strait were made by people who don’t have an official title, said Ramin Mehmanparast, the spokesman.

Sorouri, in comments that first appeared yesterday on the website of the state-run Iranian Students News Agency, said “if the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure.”

About 15.5 million barrels of oil a day, about a sixth of global consumption, flows through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This is the kind of story that sends a shock wave through the market,” said Richard Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of Iitrader.com in Chicago.

The market also rose on speculation that the Fed will announce a third round of bond purchases in a tactic that has been dubbed quantitative easing. The Fed bought a total of $2.3 trillion in bonds in two rounds of quantitative easing from December 2008 until June 2011.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his policy-making colleagues plan to meet today to discuss the outlook for an economy that has strengthened since their November meeting, lowering the jobless rate to 8.6 percent from 9.1 percent.

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