* Democrats press Obama to be aggressive with SPR
* Markey, DeLauro, Welch circulate new letter
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, March 15 A group of Democratic
lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives is again urging
President Barack Obama to aggressively use the threat of
releasing oil from emergency reserves to rain on speculators
driving up oil prices.
The three lawmakers are gathering signatures from others in
Congress for a letter to Obama to press him to wield the 696
million barrels of oil that the government stores in salt
caverns as a weapon against "rapid price escalations resulting
from speculation in the oil markets."
Reuters reported on Thursday that Britain is poised to
cooperate with the United States on a release of strategic oil
stocks that is expected within months, citing two British
Brent crude oil prices immediately dropped $3 per barrel
after the initial report, but rebounded after the White House
said no deal had been reached on a release of reserves.
That showed how sensitive oil markets would be to a release
of oil, Edward Markey, Rosa DeLauro and Peter Welch said in the
letter, reiterating calls to Obama for an "aggressive strategy"
for releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve.
Gasoline prices in the United States are unusually high for
this time of year, hurting consumer confidence heading to the
U.S. elections in November.
U.S. consumer prices rose the most in 10 months in February
as the cost of gasoline spiked, according to government data on
Friday, but there was little sign that underlying inflation
pressures were building up.
"As we approach the summer driving season, we believe that
you must consider all immediate options in order to prevent a
runaway increase in prices," the lawmakers said, citing the SPR
as the only short-term tool in the U.S. arsenal for combating
high gasoline prices.
"Releasing even a small fraction of that oil could again
have a significant impact on speculation in the marketplace and
on prices. It would remind the markets that the United States is
ready to employ an aggressive and effective SPR draw down policy
if needed," the lawmakers said.
They expect to deliver the letter to the president in the
next few days.
Republicans and some Democrats have argued the SPR should be
used only in cases of dire supply emergencies to prevent the
kind of line-ups for gasoline seen during the oil crisis of the
Republicans have used high gasoline prices as an opportunity
to criticize Obama for his energy policies and to push for
expanded domestic oil drilling and the Keystone XL oil pipeline
Democrats have increasingly blamed speculation for
artificially inflating oil prices and have pressed U.S.
regulators to clamp down.
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Bob Burgdorfer)