| WASHINGTON, April 21
WASHINGTON, April 21 President Barack Obama has
a suite of regulatory options for trying to reduce gasoline
costs this summer, a time when American angst over $4-plus pump
prices is likely to hit fever pitch.
Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is
probably the easiest to do, but Obama said the stockpile should
be used for supply disruptions and not to set prices.
The other options at Obama's disposal would cost the
government money, pollute the air or be unpopular with voters,
which means they are unlikely to be implemented.
CUT FEDERAL FUEL TAX
The federal government imposes an 18.4-cent tax on each
gallon of gasoline sold. Temporarily cutting the tax this
summer would save drivers money at the pump.
The U.S. tax on gasoline is among the lowest in the world
and accounts for around 6 percent of the fuel price. Taxes are
much higher in other industrialized countries. For example,
taxes make up 56 percent of the gasoline price in the United
Kingdom, 57 percent in France and 56 percent in Germany.
The Obama administration would have to convince Congress to
pass legislation to lower the U.S. tax.
Congress has adjusted the tax almost 20 times since it was
created in 1932. However, it would be difficult to cut the tax
when Congress needs revenue to reduce the government's budget
"We don't have any money in the kitty," said one analyst.
Cutting taxes may also backfire, because cheaper gas will
encourage driving, increasing fuel use and raise pump prices.
WAIVING SUMMER BLENDING RULES
The Environmental Protection Agency requires U.S. refiners
to make more expensive cleaner-burning gasoline in the summer
that helps fight air pollution. Waiving that requirement would
lower production costs for refiners, because they could process
cheaper "sour" crude into gasoline instead of using expensive
"sweet" crude with less sulfur to make cleaner gasoline.
It could also make gasoline cheaper because supplies could
be used more widely and shared among states that normally have
specific blending formulas.
Environmental groups, a key part of Obama's political base,
would oppose selling more polluting winter-blend gasoline in
the summer when greenhouse emissions are at their worst.
Energy analysts also said U.S. refiners might not use the
cheaper oil, because most have converted their facilities to
make summer gasoline and it would be expensive to switch back.
SUSPEND OIL ROYALTY FEES
The administration could suspend the royalty fees energy
companies pay on the oil they drill on federal lands. The
federal royalty rate ranges from 12.5 percent of the value of
oil produced onshore to 18.75 percent for offshore crude.
Without the royalties tacked on, the price of U.S. oil sold
to refiners should be less, lowering the cost to make gas.
Not having to pay royalties may also encourage companies to
drill for oil, putting more supply on the market that could
lower the price of U.S. crude that is refined into gasoline.
"You stimulate more production if you reduce the cost for
looking for oil," said one analyst.
But such a move will cost the government needed revenue,
and probably be viewed by the public as more of a benefit for
oil companies than for consumers.
GOVERNMENT HELP TO PAY FOR GASOLINE
The federal government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance
Program, known at LIHEAP, helps the poor and elderly pay
heating and cooling bills. The administration could push
Congress to expand the program to cover some household gasoline
This is unlikely because it would add billions of dollars
to the federal budget, which lawmakers are trying to cut.
LOWER SPEED LIMIT
Lowering the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour
would save gasoline, reducing fuel demand and causing downward
price pressure at the pump.
The administration can ask Congress to bring back the 55
mph limit and deny road funds to states that do not adopt it.
One energy efficiency group is urging consumers to drive
slower, but some states wants to raise their speed limits.
Lowering the speed limit would be unpopular with voters,
scaring away lawmakers from supporting such a bill and creating
opposition to Obama in his presidential re-election bid.
"I definitely would keep that far away from the 2012
election as much as possible," said one analyst.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; editing by Jim Marshall)