Murkowski balks at funding source in highway bill

The deadline for renewing the nation’s highway programs is nine days away. Leaders in the Senate this week negotiated a bill that would fund highways for the next six years. But it would require selling off $9 billion of crude oil that’s stashed in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

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Senator Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, objected to the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday. Murkowski says the nation’s crude stockpile, housed in Louisiana and Texas, ensures the country always has the energy it needs.

“It is certainly not the petty cash drawer for Congress,” Murkowski said. “We’ve got a responsibility here. A decision to sell substantial volumes of oil will increase our vulnerability to future supply disruptions.”

The top Democrat on the energy committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, also objects to the reserve sell-off.

Analysts question the math of they bill. They say it assumes an average price of  $89 a barrel for oil — far higher than today’s prices. The bill does not increase or inflation-proof the federal per-gallon gasoline tax, which used to be how Congress paid for highway construction and maintenance.

Democrats blocked the bill’s advancement yesterday, saying they needed time to read the legislation.