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New England congressmen turn up pressure on heating oil

Lawmakers urge president to open up strategic reserve

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House is feeling some heat from frustrated New England congressmen who feel not enough is being done to ensure there will be a plentiful supply of heating oil this winter, and fear it will be too expensive.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, following what he called a "frank" discussion with members of the New England Congressional Caucus on Wednesday, said only that President Clinton is considering a number of options on how to deal with what the New Englanders see as a crisis.

 

Most of the New England delegation is insisting that Clinton release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. They have asked for a meeting with the president to find out what he plans to do.

"There is a national emergency," said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, who chairs the caucus. "The President should strike the strategic petroleum reserve ... the emergency is on us now."

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Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont, demanded what he called "bold and decisive action" from the White House. "One of the demands that we want is to open the strategic petroleum reserve which has over 500 million barrels of oil," Sanders said.

"That oil is there for a national emergency. For those of us from New England and from many other parts of this country, we are facing an emergency. It is an emergency when people cannot afford to heat their homes and go cold in this winter."

The supply and transportation problems that faced natural gas customers in New England last winter are a thing of the past, according to Tom Kiley of the New England Gas Association. But because of higher prices on the world market, he said customers would see price increases of "10 to 25 percent" over last year. Kiley said the world glut of natural gas that had been key to low prices has been consumed by the recent economic upswing.

The political element of the heating oil problem has Democratic members of the House blaming Republicans in the Senate for purportedly stalling the release of the New England home heating oil reserves, which are held separately from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, said legislation that would give President Clinton more freedom to dispense the need heating oil has been tied up in the Senate since March. "My amendment loosened up the standard which the president could use in order to deploy the home heating oil reserve," Markey said "That language has been stuck in the Senate for six months," due to the actions of Republicans from oil-producing states.

"So the president's hands are tied right now ... to use the greater flexibility in terms of dealing with the home heating oil crisis in the northeast," Markey said.

 
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Wednesday, September 20, 2000


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