(The Hill) — The Department of Energy will release 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the White House announced Tuesday, as the Biden administration seeks ways to control rising costs at the pump.
Of the 50 million barrels, 32 million will eventually be returned to the strategic reserve over the years ahead once fuel prices come down in a bid to ensure the reserve remains stocked, officials said. Another 18 million barrels will be released as an acceleration of an oil sale Congress had already authorized.
Tuesday’s announcement was made in concert with China, India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.K., which will also tap into their own strategic reserves. The Biden administration had reportedly discussed the strategic reserve option in recent weeks to increase supply as consumers faced higher gas prices amid broader concerns about inflation as the economy rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Labor Department earlier this month released statistics showing consumer prices grew far faster than expected in October and that annual inflation had hit a 30-year high. The consumer price index, which tracks inflation for a range of staple goods and services, rose 0.9% last month and 6.2% in the 12-month period ending in October. The rise in prices was driven largely by a 4.8% increase in energy costs for the month, including a 1.6% increase in gasoline prices.
In a bid to rein in gas prices as inflation contributed to sinking poll numbers, President Joe Biden last week asked the head of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil companies are illegally increasing prices.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, said on Tuesday that Biden’s own policies were to blame for needing to tap into the strategic reserve. “We are experiencing higher prices because the administration and Democrats in Congress are waging a war on American energy,” Barrasso said in a statement, arguing Tuesday’s announcement would not fix the problem alone.
“Begging OPEC and Russia to increase production and now using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are desperate attempts to address a Biden-caused disaster,” Barrasso added. “They’re not substitutes for American energy production.”
Congress is negotiating a roughly $2 trillion reconciliation package that is the cornerstone of Biden’s agenda and features billions of dollars in investments in programs to combat climate change, with investments in renewable energy, electric cars, and more.
The White House insisted that Tuesday’s announcement was not at odds with Biden’s goals to shift away from fossil fuels in the years to come.
“Today’s announcement reflects the President’s commitment to do everything in his power to bring down costs for the American people and continue our strong economic recovery,” the White House said in a statement. “At the same time, the Administration remains committed to the President’s ambitious clean energy goals, as reflected in the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed last week and the House-passed Build Back Better Act that together represent the largest investment in combatting climate change in American history and is a critical step towards reaching a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 and reducing our dependence on foreign fossil fuels.”