Our Mix panelists and energyNOW! contributors, Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress and Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, picked up their discussion on tapping the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the energyNOW! Green Room.
Weiss advocates selling 30 million barrels from the SPR to raise $3 billion for public transportation improvements. He says that would help drivers by lowering gasoline prices and reduce overall oil use by drawing more people to public transit.
Slocum likes the idea of putting more money into mass transit, but he would rather have the oil companies pay for it through reduced subsidies to the industry and a windfall profits tax. He says the tax would not be punitive, but another way to pay for the tools America needs to reduce its overall oil use. Weiss believes it's not an either/or proposition. He believes we can use both SPR proceeds and reduced subsidies for the oil industry to pay for clean energy programs.
Slocum disagrees on selling oil from the reserve. He believes the projects can be funded through other means and keep the reserve intact for a time of more dire need. But Weiss believes the SPR is not a "sacred supply of oil that we must guard at all costs." He says it has been tapped previously in times of less need, including 1996, when Congress approved selling oil from the reserve to pay down the federal deficit. Weiss says a sale of 30 million barrels would leave the SPR at 96 percent capacity and still leave the nation with ample supply in case of an emergency.
The two agree that expanded domestic drilling will have no immediate effect on oil or gasoline prices. Weiss says it would take seven years to have any effect at all. He also says 75 percent of U.S. offshore oil is available to be produced, but only about one-fourth of the leases in those areas have been developed. Slocum points out that the U.S. is already the world's third-largest oil producer, and that a 2007 study by the Bush administration concluded that opening all areas that are currently off limits to domestic drilling would have an insignificant effect on prices and foreign imports.
The two also concur on the idea of funding clean energy projects that can reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Weiss says it's maddening that in a time of high oil prices, Republicans want to cut funding for programs that could made the U.S. less dependent on foreign oil. Slocum says it takes money to make money, and the only way to keep these programs going is to invest, with the oil companies helping to foot the bill.
Both experts also believe that Congress should not cut funding for the law enforcement agencies like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that are supposed to keep speculators from driving up oil prices.
Weiss brings the discussion to a close by saying that Republicans secretly want high oil prices to obtain higher profits for oil companies - and that the oil industry would use some of that money to finance political campaigns against lawmakers who disagree with them. Slocum says he recently spoke to University of Oregon students about a group called Citizens United, which he says is working to open the spigots for corporate energy money to influence elections.