On Oil Prices And Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program Press Conference, Burlington

Welcome everyone.  I’m pleased to be here with the rest of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch, and we’re glad to have with us representatives of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association and of Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, who will be available to answer questions. 

Vermonters have just spent a gorgeous Fourth of July weekend with their families and friends, and they’ve also just spent another unplanned portion of their family budgets at the filling station.

If you believe the polls, record numbers of Vermonters and other Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.  Bernie and Peter and I hear hard evidence backing that up every day from Vermonters when we’re at the gas pump or in the grocery store or walking down Church Street – not to mention the heart-wrenching stories we hear by email or phone or letter. 

We’ve certainly been on the wrong track for years when it comes to energy policy.  And there’s no clearer evidence for that than runaway gas prices.  At the top of the heap are the golden salaries and obscene profits of the big oil companies.  As this chart shows, they have been piling those profits not into new domestic energy production on their existing leases, but instead into buying back their stock…and also into obscenely high multi-million-dollar bonuses for top officials.  Top executives from the oil industry came before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently and testified under oath that they would make profits if oil sold at $55-$65 a barrel.  Oil recently has been selling at more then $140 a barrel.

Meanwhile, down here on the ground, our families, our small businesses and our biggest employers are being pressured from all sides by higher energy costs. 

The Bush-Cheney Administration has put the Iraq war on a national credit card.  Those huge payments won’t only be paid by our children and grandchildren.  We’re paying for them right now, at the pump.  Oil is bought and sold in dollars, and these bankrupt fiscal policies have devalued the dollar so severely that oil now costs us twice as much as it used to.  

As Vermont’s voices in Congress we are upholding a long Vermont tradition of standing up for sensible, sustainable answers.  And Vermonters have also been on the front lines in trying to fix these broken policies during this crisis.  Senator Sanders has kept the pressure on to strengthen LIHEAP.  Congressman Welch has worked to repeal the so-called Enron loophole and to push for other reforms to get a handle on freewheeling speculation in oil futures.  A few days ago the Appropriations Committee passed my amendment to press the President to release $120 million in emergency LIHEAP funds that he could release right now, but has not.  And I am pleased that the Judiciary Committee has approved the so-called “NOPEC” bill that I have long worked on, to bring the oil cartel under the scrutiny of our antitrust laws.

We recognize that the underlying crisis has been long in the making, that it can’t be solved overnight, and that longstanding resistance in the White House and in Congress takes time to overcome.   

But with winter now just months away, one of the biggest immediate concerns is what these skyrocketing energy costs are doing to fray the safety need that has protected the most vulnerable Vermonters.  Our families are facing heating costs that are beyond the means of thousands of Vermonters.  Families in cold weather states like ours, who were able to pay this winter’s bill, are already preparing for next winter and they are finding the costs of home heating to be out of reach. 

In its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook, the Department of Energy predicted that the cost of home heating oil will increase more than 41 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008.  This increase comes on top of the 162 percent increase in heating oil prices since President Bush took office. 

Strengthening the LIHEAP safety net to meet the magnitude of this threat needs to be on the front burner, right now.   

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693