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Washington Calling

Stockpiling oil ... Nixing nukes ... Navy D-Day Monument ... More
Scripps Howard News Service


May 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- It's not a crimp in the supply of crude oil that's causing the price of gasoline to balloon. Energy experts are in general agreement that the current spike is a result of shortages in U.S. refining capacity.

But don't tell that to the U.S. Energy Department, which continues to focus on building up the amount of crude the nation holds in its Strategic Petroleum Reserves, a network of old salt mines dotted along the Gulf Coast.

Though the reserves already contain nearly 690 million barrels of crude, the government is determined to double the stockpile's current storage limit of 1.5 billion barrels. Not only will that have little effect on the price of gasoline at the pump, it also would do little to cushion any future oil-supply crisis because that amount represents a piddling three months' worth of the nation's oil imports now.

And, despite decades of carping from the energy sector for federal encouragement in expanding refinery capacity, none is anywhere on the horizon.


It's not just industry groups lobbying Congress for bucks for pet projects. City, state and county governments, along with public universities and even utility departments, also are shelling out the bucks to persuade Capitol Hill to be generous with their pet projects. In fact, according to a study by the nonprofit group Americans For Prosperity, state universities have tripled their taxpayer-funded spending to push their pork in Congress from $10 million in 1998 to $32 million last year. Local governments spent $59 million last year -- up from $20 million nine years ago.


No new nukes. House appropriators have axed $119 million the Bush administration wanted to start designing the first of a new generation of nuclear warheads, calling instead for a complete overhaul of the nation's nuclear strategy and stockpiling. Nuke overseers say the old weapons are deteriorating and risk becoming unreliable, but critics say the threat is overstated and undercuts U.S. efforts to deter nuclear proliferation worldwide.


The number of women commanding Navy warships fell from five to four last week when Cmdr. E.J. (Esther) McClure was yanked from the USS Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer after the ship ran aground May 15 near the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. In all, the Navy has pulled skippers from six ships in about a month and a half, after an assortment of unrelated foul-ups.


Meanwhile, the Naval Order of the United States reports that it is more than halfway toward its $500,000 goal to create the first monument to the contribution of the 124,000 U.S. sailors and Coast Guardsmen on D-Day in turning the tide of World War II and to the 1,000 U.S. seamen who died doing so. The group intends to dedicate the Navy Normandy D-Day Monument on Utah Beach land donated by the French on June 6 next year, the 64th anniversary of the invasion. For more details,


Is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales another Donald Rumsfeld waiting to happen? That's what skeptical White House watchers are wondering as they note the daily professions of undimmed support for the embattled Cabinet official from Bush or his mouthpieces even as Gonzales' former aides tie the noose tighter around his neck with revelations of politically driven meddling with U.S. attorneys around the country. Pentagon chief Rumsfeld received similar votes of confidence right up until the president announced his resignation the day after the November 2006 elections. Time will tell if Gonzales suffers a similar precipitous fall from favor.


Here's something new to worry about: the end of the universe as we know it. Actually, you have plenty of time to fret. Several U.S. universities have just issued a new timetable that estimates the end of everything will occur in about 3 trillion years. That's when they expect that the galaxies will have stretched out so much that they stop expanding while the background radiation of the big bang will have so faded that only isolated pockets of stars remain.


Scripps Howard News Service correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.
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