Gibbons blames Clinton for gas prices; Bryan wants reserves released |

Gibbons blames Clinton for gas prices; Bryan wants reserves released

SCOTT SONNER Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Sen. Richard Bryan urged President Clinton to release some U.S. petroleum reserves while Rep. Jim Gibbons blamed the administration Thursday for the high gas prices Nevadans are paying at the pumps.

Bryan, D-Nev., pressed the matter of the reserves directly with Clinton last week when he attended a White House meeting on Medicare, aides said.

”I have urged released of some of the strategic petroleum reserve,” Bryan said.

The senator said the action is necessary because the nation is so dependent on oil imports. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has placed a stranglehold on the oil supply unseen in 20 years, he said.

Meanwhile, Gibbons, R-Nev., said the administration was ”asleep at the wheel” and it was time for Clinton to tell the nation about his plans to stem rising prices.

”The Clinton-Gore administration was caught napping and Nevada’s motorists are paying for this negligence by paying more for gasoline out of their family budgets,” he said.

Nevadans are paying some of the highest prices in the nation, averaging $1.78 per gallon statewide, according to AAA Nevada.

Gasoline prices in Indian Springs surpassed $2 on Wednesday for a gallon of self-serve, regular unleaded.

The price in Reno is averaging $1.86, up 35 cents since Feb. 15 and a station in Las Vegas was selling gasoline for $1.999 per gallon.

”Nevada’s tourism-based economy is heavily dependent upon the ability of Americans to travel at reasonable costs,” Gibbons said.

”Nevada’s economy could be severely affected if the price of gasoline continues to rise,” he said.

Gibbons opposes release of any strategic petroleum reserves ”because those are there in case of a national crisis, such as war,” his spokesman Jay Cranford said.

Bryan is among several senators who earlier urged the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil companies were conspiring to boost prices in violation of antitrust laws.

”The FTC is still looking into whether or not there is any evidence of restraint of trade activity,” Bryan said.

”But I must say at this point, I think the general consensus is that OPEC has been effective at curtailing production, much as they were in the 1970s. There is a shortage of oil on the international market,” he said.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said this week that Clinton had not ruled out releasing oil reserves or suspending part of the federal gas tax.

But he said the focus should be on negotiating with OPEC, getting more gasoline to market and increasing research into alternative energy sources, fuel-efficient vehicles and use of abundant natural gas.

”We’re moving ahead with getting refiners and gasoline people and oil companies to get more gasoline out into the market,” Richardson said. ”We know people are hurting. But we’re moving and we’re considering a number of options.”

Bryan said he was optimistic the administration might reconsider releasing the reserves after the OPEC oil ministers meet this month to consider increasing production. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have indicated some willingness to do so, he said.

”They don’t want to release that before the OPEC oil ministers make their decision,” he said.