Critics Accuse Clinton of Playing Politics with Oil Reserve

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - President Clinton Friday directed the US Department of Energy to release 30 million barrels of oil from America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said, "we are taking this step to reduce the risk of heating oil shortages this winter." But others, including Texas Governor and Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, have said dipping into the nation's oil reserve could create a strategic risk for the US.

But Bush said he suspected politics was behind the decision to open up the oil reserve. Bush said in a statement Friday "Ten months ago, the president and vice president thought it was a bad idea to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Now that we are 46 days away from the election, they've changed their minds."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was more blunt, calling the move "a political bandaid 46 days before the election," and saying the situation was caused by what he called the administration's "risky" energy policy.

However, Richardson claimed the action "enhances our energy and national security and in exchange will ultimately result in more oil in the reserve," though he did not say how. The nation's petroleum reserve currently includes about 570 million barrels of oil.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, also criticized Clinton's release of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

"This is bad public policy, plain and simple," said Barton. "The Strategic Petroleum Reserve exists to be used in states of national emergency, not at the whim of political debates or economic fluctuations. Congressional hearings have demonstrated the administration's prior knowledge of the coming oil price spikes, and yet they stood by and allowed them to happen."

Oil was last released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.