WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is considering removing environmental requirements for a multitude of gasoline blends as one way to increase supplies of gasoline and fight soaring prices, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans (search) said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Evans said the cost of gasoline, which hit a record nationwide average of $2.06 this week, was already having an impact on driving habits, with people making fewer trips to the store.
Oil shocks in the 1970s and 1980s were severe enough to push the country into a series of recessions, and Evans said the administration was taking very seriously the current run-up in prices and the impact it might have on consumer buying patterns.
"It is of great concern to us," Evans said in the interview Wednesday. "The president will take all the steps we can to deal with the problem."
Evans said one of the areas the administration was exploring was what it could do to reduce the requirements for different types of gasoline blends (search) in different parts of the country to deal with specific pollution problems.
"We've got to think real hard whether we need 17, 18, 19, 20, whatever it is, different varieties of fuel in this country," Evans said. "That puts certain areas of the country at a very high risk of being dependent on a single source supplier."
Evans said the issue needed to be examined because it was hurting the country's ability to import gasoline from around the world because foreign refineries do not produce "the boutique fuels that we consume here in America."
Evans said that another possible area to explore for expanding supplies in the United States would be efforts to streamline the regulatory process for getting approval to build or expand existing oil refineries (search) in the United States, which he said had not seen a new oil refinery built in more than 25 years.
Evans became the second Cabinet official to raise the issue of the numerous gasoline blends that are required to meet environmental standards. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (search), testifying before a House panel last month, said that the administration was seriously considering requests from the states of California and New York to waive requirements to sell specially blended gasoline.
The two states are seeking waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency (search) in an effort to lower gasoline prices for consumers. The requirements for specially blended gasoline make fuel more expensive.
EPA spokesman John Millett said EPA was still considering the requests and had given no indication when it might rule on the waiver requests.
The issue of surging energy prices has become an issue in the campaign with presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry blaming the Bush administration for not properly addressing the problem.
A new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll on Wednesday indicated that almost six in 10 surveyed said they expected gasoline prices would cause them a financial hardship this summer and could cause them to drive less.
Evans said the United States would probably have access currently to an extra 1 million barrels of oil per day if former President Clinton had not vetoed legislation in 1995 to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (search) in Alaska.