Newswire

UPDATE 1-Democrats to ask Bush to use emergency oil

(Adds retail gasoline price tops $2 a gallon)

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - Democrats plan to put more pressure on the Bush administration this week to lower U.S. gasoline prices by demanding that up to 60 million barrels of crude oil be released from the nation's emergency stockpile, a Democratic legislative aide said on Monday.

The White House has been criticized for taking crude oil off the market to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve while pump costs skyrocket. The national weekly price for gasoline topped $2 a gallon on Monday for first time ever, the Energy Department said.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York will lead a new push among Democrats asking the White House do something to help stabilize pump prices, an aide to the lawmaker said.

On Tuesday, Schumer will join other senators to announce a new, nonbinding resolution that calls for the administration to release 1 million barrels a day for 30 days from the emergency reserve. The resolution also proposes that the White House tap another 1 million barrels a day for a month if needed.

The United States is the world's biggest consumer of oil and uses about 20 million barrels of oil and petroleum products each day. Imports account for 12 million barrels.

The resolution would have no power of law even if passed by the Senate, only expressing what lawmakers think the administration ought to do.

Former President Bill Clinton released 30 million barrels of oil from the reserve when gasoline prices soared the summer and fall of 2000. Critics said the release was timed to help then-Vice President Al Gore who was running for president.

Bush, a former Texas oilman, has adamantly refused to tap the stockpile. He contends the oil should be saved for possible supply disruptions, not to control prices.

The reserve, created by Congress in the mid-1970s after the Arab oil embargo, holds close to 660 million barrels. The administration wants 700 million barrels in it by next year.

Democrats will argue that releasing stockpiled oil would show OPEC that Washington is willing to play hardball to ensure adequate crude supplies and lower prices, the aide said.

U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will join OPEC oil ministers later this week in Amsterdam at a global meeting of oil producing and consuming nations. It will be the last opportunity for him to lobby OPEC ministers in person for more oil before the cartel meets formally in Beirut on June 3.

Last week, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia wrote a letter to the president asking him to temporarily suspend deliveries of oil to the emergency stockpile. Other Democrats, including presidential hopeful John Kerry, have urged the White House to at least slow the rate at which the stockpile is filled.