WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last week, in response to rising gas prices, Representative Bernie Sanders called on President Bush to release 15 million barrels of oil from the nation's strategic petroleum reserves, which hold close to 700 million barrels. Both Republican and Democratic leaders have taken this step in recent years, but the Bush administration has so far refused. Sanders also supports raising fuel-efficiency standards, which would help consumers save money at the pump and reduce greenhouse gasses responsible for global warming.
Sanders' spokeswoman Erin Campbell says the congressman is worried that fuel prices are hitting rural Vermonters hard. "If we released 15 million barrels from the petroleum reserve, gas prices would drop 25 cents a gallon," she says. "This is a big difference for working people who are seeing a huge dent in their pocketbooks."
Local environmentalists, who would prefer to focus on energy conservation, aren't thrilled with this idea. But Patrick Berry of the Vermont Natural Resources Council seems willing to give the Independent congressman and enviro-ally a pass. "In a vacuum," says the VNRC policy director, "from an environmental standpoint, we'd be better off focusing our efforts elsewhere. But with the lack of leadership [from the Bush administration] on energy policy, it's put a lot of Vermonters in a tough situation."
Campbell claims the higher prices do benefit someone -- namely, Exxon Mobil. "Every time gas goes up $1 a gallon," she says, "ExxonMobil makes $550 million in profits." At a time when Americans are struggling to pay their gas bills, she points out, ExxonMobil is the nation's most profitable corporation. "That says a lot about what's the problem here."