Political opponents often accuse each other of playing politics. It's a charge that's sometimes hard to take seriously because it's so frequently exchanged.
However, President Bill Clinton's recent decision to release 30 million of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is probably the rankest political ploy to come down the pike in many years. It was orchestrated to appear that the administration was acting upon Vice President Al Gore's advice.
The political wisdom of Clinton's oil reserve decision will be decided ultimately by the voters. But it's certainly bad public policy.
It's a feel-good political move designed to placate voters who are getting nervous at the prospects of escalating energy costs. While that concern might be legitimate the president's move does nothing to address the real plight of these people. In fact, it very likely may prove to be counterproductive.
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established in 1975 to protect the United States in the event foreign oil sources cut us off. It was not meant to be used as a tool to influence prices.
Other reasons why the Clinton-Gore oil gambit was a bad decision:
-- U.S. refineries are operating at full capacity now and can't process crude oil any faster.
-- The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC might very well decide that it will hike oil prices if the U.S. is going to try and use its reserves to influence the cost of oil.
-- It leaves the U.S. in a real predicament if it is faced with a real crisis or a cut-off of its oil supply.
-- America's inventories of crude oil are so low now and our consumption is so high, that the 30 million barrels that were released represent about a 36-hour supply.
-- The decision does nothing to address our long-term energy needs or alter our dependence on foreign oil.
-- Most states have energy assistance programs in place so that those families that can't afford fuel aren't cut off by their suppliers.
The decision to tap the oil reserve amounts to blatant politics. It makes no sense other than to possibly score some political points for the vice president.
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