Vermont and Venezuela launch oil deal

Feb 07, 2006 01:00 AM

Some 2.4 mm gallons of Venezuelan oil will be delivered to low-income Vermonters at a 40 % discount, with an additional 108,000 gallons going to homeless shelters for free.
Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., joined Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Citgo CEO Felix Rodriguez and Joseph Kennedy, the former Massachusetts congressman who heads the non-profit Citizens Energy Corp., at an announcement on the front steps of the John Graham homeless shelter.

"At a time when many Vermont households are struggling economically, the significant increase in home heating oil prices is causing many families to make painful choices," between health care, fixing the car, buying medicines or adequate heating, Sanders said.
"This program will, to some degree, make those choices a little bit easier," the congressman and US Senate candidate added.

The oil comes from a country whose president, Hugo Chavez, has been sharply critical of the Bush administration. Sanders said the new oil discounting program, which follows similar efforts in other north-eastern states, should not be seen in a political context.
"This is certainly in this state not a partisan issue," Sanders said.

That didn't stop Republican US Senate candidate Richard Tarrant from issuing a statement criticizing Sanders.
"I want to thank Citizens Energy Corp. and Joe Kennedy for putting this deal together for Vermont and other Northeast states," Tarrant said. He did not thank Sanders, who participants in the deal said initiated it.
"It's unfortunate, however, that politicians substitute photo ops for policy," Tarrant's statement added. "It's time that politicians on both sides of the aisle put their differences aside and work together in developing an energy strategy that will make our country less reliant on foreign oil."

Critics have charged that Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, is offering heating-oil assistance to low-income Americans as a way to tweak the Bush administration. Kennedy angrily dismissed those criticisms.
"Instead of us thanking them and welcoming them and recognizing what they do, it's open for criticism, and it's a complete shame," Kennedy said. "And shame on us for criticizing a nation that is providing help and assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable people that you see, who are living in this shelter right behind us."

The 40 % discounts will go to beneficiaries of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Crisis Fuel Assistance Program and the WARMTH program. The free fuel will go to homeless shelters around Vermont.
Elizabeth Ready, the former state senator and auditor who is director of the John Graham shelter, said heating oil is the shelter's second-largest expense after staff.
"This will really help," she said.

Ralph Jackman, whose Jackman Fuels truck made the ceremonial first delivery to the shelter, said he was glad the program was being put in place. He said he had one customer living on a Social Security payment of $ 142 a month.
"I just delivered him $ 375 worth of oil. I don't know how he's going to pay for it," Jackman said.
Sanders said those wishing to take advantage of the program should call their local community-action agencies, or the toll-free number 866-271-1648.

Source: Associated Press
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