Draining of emergency oil reserves draws criticism that the White House is trying to lower gas prices with midterm election politics in mind.
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President Biden said that he has ordered the release of 15 million additional barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to address gas shortage concerns.
WASHINGTON — President Biden expanded his efforts on Wednesday to blunt the pain of rising gas prices and reduce America’s exposure to global energy markets, which have become more volatile because of provocative actions by Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The administration announced $2.8 billion in grants to expand domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and the electrical grid, one day after the White House said that the United States would release millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and that Mr. Biden would consider additional withdrawals this winter.
The moves highlight how energy security is now at the center of the Biden administration’s economic agenda, which has been derailed by soaring inflation and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Those concerns come at a perilous political moment, with midterm elections that will determine dynamics in Washington less than three weeks away.
Mr. Biden’s decision to order the release of 15 million additional barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is designed to address the immediate worry of rising gas prices. That brings the total amount of oil that has been released since Mr. Biden authorized the use of the reserve in March to 180 million barrels.
The Biden administration is prepared to dip further into its emergency supplies this winter, despite concerns that depleting the reserve could put the nation’s energy security at risk.
The Biden Presidency
With midterm elections approaching, here’s where President Biden stands.
- Storyteller in Chief: President Biden has been unable to break himself of the habit of spinning embellished narratives to weave a political identity.
- Diplomatic Limits: OPEC’s decision to curb oil production has exposed the failure of President Biden’s fist-bump diplomacy with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
- Defending Democracy: Mr. Biden’s drive to buttress democracy at home and abroad has taken on more urgency by the persistent power of China, Russia and former President Donald J. Trump.
- Questions About 2024: Mr. Biden has said he plans to run for a second term, but at 79, his age has become an uncomfortable issue.
“We’re calling it a ready and release plan,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. “This allows us to move quickly to prevent oil price spikes and respond international events.”
Mr. Biden has described the releases as a bridge to blunt the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine while domestic energy producers ramp up production. There are about 400 million barrels remaining in the stockpile, which has the capacity to hold about 700 million barrels.
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In remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden rebutted the notion that his administration had placed curbs on domestic oil production. Instead, he called on companies to expand production and said even if demand for oil slows in future years, they would be able to sell it back to the federal government to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve when oil prices decline to around $70 a barrel.
The president also accused oil companies of profiteering and warned them not to gouge prices as American are grappling with inflation.
“When the cost of oil comes down, we should see the price of the gas station at the pump come down as well,” he said. “My message to the American energy companies is you should not be using your profits to buy back stock or for dividends. Not now. Not while a war is raging.”
Separately on Wednesday, the White House announced that the Energy Department is awarding $2.8 billion of grants that were created as part of the infrastructure legislation passed earlier this year.
The money will go to 20 companies in 12 states and will be used for projects related to the production of lithium, graphite and nickel that is used in batteries that power electric vehicles. The funds could take years to yield results, but they are part of the Biden administration’s longer term strategy to transition away from cars with combustion engines and reach Mr. Biden’s goal of making half of all new vehicles sold electric by 2030.
But the use of the strategic oil reserves has fueled criticism that Mr. Biden is putting the nation’s near-term energy security at risk for political purposes.
“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was built for a national energy crisis — not for a Democrat election crisis,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming. “Joe Biden is draining our emergency oil supply to a 40-year low.”
Mr. Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the president’s “dismal approval rating is not a justifiable reason to continue to raid our nation’s oil reserves.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden denied that he was releasing more oil with the midterm elections in mind.
“It’s not politically motivated at all,” Mr. Biden said, explaining that he has been working for months to lower gas prices. “It’s motivated to make sure that I continue to push on what I’ve been pushing.”