The Clinton administration Wednesday quickly rejected a proposal by Sen. Charles E. Schumer to sell off part of the government's oil reserves as a way of stemming soaring increases in the world price of gasoline and home heating oil.
The exchange between Schumer and the White House came as ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meeting in Vienna, Austria, agreed to maintain their deep cuts in production.
Their cuts of 4.3 million barrels a day virtually guarantees that consumers will pay up to 40 percent more for oil products this winter.
In a letter to President Clinton, the New York Democrat warned that New Yorkers are more dependent on home heating oil than any other state and predicted the pump price of gasoline could hit $1.50 a gallon.
"I urge you to prepare for the release of a modest amount of oil from America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to bring global oil supply and demand into better balance," Schumer wrote the president.
An administration official who asked that she not be identified said the White House would not comply with Schumer's request to tap into the government's 571-million barrel reserve.
"There is no shortage of oil or oil products," the administration official said. "The president is closely following" the recent price increases, she said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, released the results of a national survey that show a majority of Americans believe a combination of high energy prices and an upcoming severe winter "will once again threaten the lives of the elderly and the poor."
"They believe the government has a responsibility to help these groups through intensely hot and cold weather conditions."
The White House reaction to Schumer's request paralleled that of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's voice in Washington.
"The (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) was designed to deal with emergencies and not for market-balancing activities," John Felmy, an API economist, commented on Schumer's appeal.
OPEC will not meet again on production levels until next March.
Schumer warned the White House that the effect on prices and supplies in New York State "cannot be overstated."
Worldwide production cutbacks, Schumer said, have resulted in the increase in the price of oil from $10 to $24 a barrel.
"The U.S. should defend itself from what amounts to nothing less than economic warfare," the senator told the president.
The government's reserves would last two months, if all foreign sources were shut off, he said. A modest release of reserves into the market could stabilize prices. The last time the White House tapped into the SPR was in 1991 during the Persian Gulf war.
Schumer said New York is "by far the most heavily dependent state for home heating oil, with 957,000 households receiving LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.)"
"The rippling effect could begin this winter," Schumer wrote to Clinton and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "The first to feel it will be the poor and the elderly, but business will feel the crunch as well."
Quinn, Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Va., and others are readying an appeal to Clinton to push for an increase in money for LIHEAP -- for which funds have been cut by 48 percent since 1985.
Quinn said a survey by Behavior Research Center of Phoenix found that 68 percent of the respondents think Congress should increase LIHEAP funding.