Gore Attempts to Slip Out of the Oil Dilemma

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Al Gore answers reporters' questions while traveling back to Washington

Looks like you can cross off Bill Richardson from the shortlist for jobs in the Gore administration. The beleaguered energy secretary absorbed another blow Thursday when Al Gore took aim at rising fuel prices, urging President Clinton to tap federal petroleum reserves in order to stave off a winter of soaring heating costs — and an autumn of voter discontent. The presidential hopeful, campaigning near Washington, called on Congress to allocate $400 million in energy assistance for low-income families, and to provide tax credits to oil distribution companies.

The vice president's proposal was a highly calculated swipe not only at Richardson's troubled tenure as the nation's oil watchdog, but also at President Clinton himself, whose perceived inaction on the growing energy crisis has marred an otherwise rosy economic outlook and created the potential, come the late fall, for more than a few disgruntled voters. By taking an aggressive stance against the status quo, Gore manages to create the desired distance from Clinton's energy policies, assuring voters that he's able to get tough on important issues — even when the target is his longtime ally.

The Bush camp, which has been pushing for a loosening of environmental laws so that more oil can be produced in the U.S., reacted swiftly to the proposal, accusing Gore of using the reserve for political expedience. "That reserve is intended for strategic and national security purposes, not for election-year political purposes," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told the Associated Press.

Bush lobbied for his own energy policy on, of all places, Thursday's "Live with Regis" (co-hosted by Sue of "Survivor"), insisting that foreign oil suppliers must be encouraged to increase availability. Though the plan appears more vague than Gore's proposal, Philbin and Sue seemed impressed with the governor's strategy. No word yet on reaction from the general electorate.