The Green Room: The SPR, Clean Energy Funding & Oil Politics

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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 ...