EXCLUSIVE: Republicans sharpened their attacks against the Biden administration and its energy policies on Thursday, accusing the White House of draining the nation's strategic reserves as a "stopgap measure" that did little to combat high gasoline prices.
In a letter addressed to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, a coalition of GOP lawmakers demanded answers regarding the Department of Energy's plan to backfill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve after officials released a record-setting amount of oil from it in hopes to bringing down record-high gas prices.
"The American people deserve to know more about DOE’s plan to backfill the SPR. The SPR is intended for emergency supply chain disruptions — not as a stop gap to make up for the Biden administration’s war on domestic energy," the letter said. It was signed by Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, and was led by ranking member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., and Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa.
President Biden has tapped the emergency oil stash three times over the past year in hopes of lowering gas prices, including most recently in March, when he ordered a record-setting 180 million barrels of oil released from the reserve. If fully enacted, the president's plan would release 1 million barrels per day until September.
The White House also released 50 million barrels at the end of 2021 and said earlier this year that it would release an additional 30 million barrels – moves that only modestly affected climbing oil prices.
"Numerous times throughout the past year, the Biden administration has released oil from the SPR with the hopes of lowering domestic gas prices," the Republicans wrote in the letter. "However, despite these actions, gas prices continue to rise and now stand on average at $4.60, the highest-ever average price since AAA began collecting data in 2000."
Proponents of releasing barrels from the emergency stockpile say that doing so would increase oil supplies and reduce prices at the pump, while also generating billions in revenue for the federal government. Still, critics say that releasing emergency supplies is a short-term fix to a problem and does not actually increase the country's oil-production capabilities.
Despite the oil release, prices at the pump have hovered near a record-high for several weeks. The average price for a gallon of gas was at $4.59 nationwide on Wednesday, according to AAA, up from $3.03 one year ago. It marks the steepest price for gasoline on record; until the recent inflation spike, prices had not topped $4 a gallon nationally since 2008. Some Americans are paying even more for fuel: In some parts of California, for instance, prices are as high as $7 a gallon.
American families are now spending what amounts to $5,000 on gasoline, according to a recent analysis from Yardeni Research, a staggering increase from just one year ago as prices surge at the pump. The figure has also climbed rapidly from March, when Yardeni projected that gasoline cost most households about $3,800 annually.
Established after a 1973-74 oil embargo by Arab members of OPEC, the reserve has been used in several emergencies, including in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and destroyed swaths of the Gulf of Mexico oil infrastructure. At the time, the Bush administration authorized the release of 20.8 million barrels of crude oil to U.S. producers.
The Biden administration announced plans earlier this month to replenish the oil reserve with a call for bids to repurchase 60 million barrels of oil – roughly one-third of the emergency supply released by the president in March. The call for bids from companies is slated to take place in the fall and is designed to bolster the emergency supply for future years.
"As we are thoughtful and methodical in the decision to drawdown from our emergency reserve, we must be similarly strategic in replenishing the supply so that it stands ready to deliver on its mission to provide relief when needed most," Granholm said in a statement.
The Energy Department said that it expects oil prices and consumer demand to drop in coming months, likely beginning in the fall after fiscal year 2023. But the GOP lawmakers cast doubt on that assessment, noting that inflation and fuel prices have remained elevated for some time and have shown no sign of slowing down. The stockpile is currently at the lowest level since 1987.
"Given continued hikes in both fuel prices and inflation without a noted decrease in demand, we fail to see how oil prices will be lower during the proposed buyback timeframe," they wrote. "Now more than ever, the DOE should establish policies that strive to produce more domestic energy instead of using an emergency oil supply in a failed attempt to curb inflation. Unfortunately, by all accounts, this administration is doing the opposite."
The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment on the letter.