Fill 'er up, please

IT hardly takes a Ben Franklin to know that there is true economy -- wisely maximizing the use of resources -- and false economy, taking a misstep that ultimately increases expenses. The Reagan administration appears to have confused the two. It has decided to shut the valves on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), now that the reserve is roughly two-thirds filled, at 502 million barrels. The petroleum, for use in the event of another oil embargo or other supply disruption, is stored in salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas.

The current reserve is enough to meet US energy needs (based on current net oil imports) for 120 days. The problem, however, is that Congress has provided funding for 250 million barrels more.

The administration contends that the money earmarked to buy the oil could best be used elsewhere, in helping to reduce the deficit and national debt. Many lawmakers, however, counter that with oil prices at the lowest level they have been in years, now is the time to lock up long-term contracts and complete the reserve. Recently the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report saying the same thing.

``It makes no sense'' for the US to ``forgo this opportunity to increase'' US national security by adding to the reserves, is how Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey put it when calling on the administration to press ahead and complete the reserve. He has a good point.

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