Desperate to avoid gas price riots, Congress voted yesterday to stop filling the national oil reserve.

According to today’s NYT article, the ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserve’ is already 97% full and yet we continue to purchase and fill it with over 70,000 barrels a day. With oil prices hovering around $125/barrel, it’s becoming increasingly expensive to keep doing so.

The reserve is designed to act as an emergency backup in the event of a fuel shortage.

Speaker of the House – Nancy Pelosi said, after speaking to analysts, that this act may decrease the cost of gasoline by 5 to 24 cents a gallon.

There are plenty of naysayers, and in the spirit of ever-increasing partisanship most of them are members of the opposing party. Like this guy, who doesn’t sound at all like a jerk:

But Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas (R) said the measure was meaningless. “If all the members of the House would go out onto the steps and clap our hands three times and say, ‘Down prices, down prices,’ that would have as much impact as passing this bill,” he said.

Well Joe, that plan really doesn’t seem too far fetched when you think of how any other verbalization of policy effects market and oil prices. Even the utterance of the name of some Third World country and the word ‘pipeline’ in the same sentence is enough to make prices go up a few dollars a barrel.

Pretty much everyone agrees, that the McCain-Clinton ‘gas tax holiday’ was merely pandering without a beneficial solution. But is this one really any better?

Although it makes a lot of sense to stop filling the reserve when it’s already 97% full, it makes even more sense to quit while it costs so much to keep filling.

This measure was passed by both the House and the Senate by a margin of 385 to 25 and 97 to 1. It also looks good on the Bush end of things. The President is unlikely to veto this measure.

In the coming weeks this plan should be put into action and then we will see if those prices tick down a bit. Right around that time, hopefully there won’t be some massive pipeline news that makes us wish we had that extra 3% in the reserve. Fingers crossed!

NYT: Congress Votes To Stop Stockpiling Oil, May 14, 2008