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House Committee Demands Answers From Clinton Administration About Price of Winter Heating Oil

Aired September 21, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: After months of rising gasoline prices, energy began to emerge today as a major issue in the presidential campaign. The House Government Reform Committee met to discuss ways to reduce oil prices and to question Energy Secretary Bill Richardson about the possibility of tapping the federal petroleum reserve. But even before Richardson could speak, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore came out in favor of that idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support oil releases from our national Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We ought to start with several releases of 5 million barrels each. And assuming that is successful, we should continue with these swaps in an effort to stabilize the price of oil at lower levels and help consumers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Republican George Bush called the Gore proposal an election year political ploy that could threaten national security. He says the administration could take a different approach to reducing oil prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's what we need to do. We need to use our strong hand in the diplomatic circles to make it clear to our friends overseas that we don't want them holding our nation and our consumers hostage. We expect them to increase the supply of crude oil so that the price of crude oil drops. We also need to be exploring more at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: A few facts about the oil reserves at the center of this debate: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is administered by the U.S. Department of Energy. It consists of some 570 million barrels of crude oil stored underground in salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana. The reserve was established during the energy crisis of the 1970s and can supply enough oil to last 60 days. It's reserved for emergencies. Oil from the stockpile has been swapped to ease temporary distribution problems on several occasions. And 21 million barrels were sold during the Gulf War. NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN congressional correspondent Chris Black is covering today's energy hearings on Capitol Hill. She joins us with the latest -- Chris.

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the House Government Reform Committee and its chairman, Dan Burton, are demanding some answers today from top administration officials about the price and supply of heating oil for the upcoming winter. On the firing line are Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, EPA administer Carol Browner, and the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Jim Hecker.

The politics of energy dates back decades to the oil shocks of the 1970s, but the United States is even more dependent on oil from foreign sources today than it was then. But this issue has attracted little attention on Capitol Hill until the price went up. This year, home heating oil costs will be $1.31 a gallon. That's a big increase from last winter when it was $1.19 a gallon; the year before, 80 cents a gallon.

According to the Department of Energy, the average home heating bill this winter will jump to $901 per household. That's compared to $765 last year.

Chairman Burton opened this hearing this afternoon with a real slash at government -- what he called government "overregulation." Republicans here on Capitol Hill have been blaming the Clinton administration for not having a comprehensive energy policy for the last eight years. Democrats, however, respond that the Congress has underfunded the Department of Energy and wasn't really interested until the price started to go up.

In any case, there's a real conflict over how to proceed. Republicans want to increase the supplies of domestic oil and gas. That means drilling in places that Democrats say should be off-limits to any government/private sector exploration because of environmental reasons -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Chris Black on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Chris.

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