Sanders: 'We Have an Energy Emergency'

BURLINGTON, July 7 - "We have an energy emergency in Vermont and all over this country and Congress must act," Senator Bernie Sanders said at a press conference this morning. "Given the escalating cost of home heating fuels, if we don't dramatically increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, senior citizens on fixed incomes; the disabled; and low-income families with children will go cold this winter. We cannot let that happen."

Sanders joined Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter Welch at a press conference to discuss their proposals to help Vermonters facing soaring home heating bills this winter.

Sanders recently introduced legislation, cosponsored by Leahy, that would authorize an additional $2.53 billion for the heating assistance program. A companion measure also providing nearly twice as much as the current funding was introduced by Welch in the House.

Under the measure, Vermont would immediately receive an additional $6.2 million in aid, and the state would be eligible for another $14 million in emergency funds for this winter season. Calling the measure "an important piece of legislation," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the bill on a legislative fast track and announced plans to act on it within 30 days. Senate Republicans, however, could stage a filibuster to block the measure, like they have on a record 79 other bills so far during this session of Congress.

"Many Vermonters have contacted me expressing a fear over what will happen next winter. Average heating oil prices in Vermont have increased by 75 percent since last year going from $2.53 a gallon to over $4.46 a gallon today and we're only in July - several months away from the peak winter season," Sanders said.

While energy prices are soaring, federal funding for the home heating assistance program is 23 percent lower than it was just two years ago. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, the federal government spent more money on heating aid 20 years ago than it spends today. If President Bush got his way, funding for the upcoming winter would be slashed by more than $500 million from last year - a 22 percent cut.

While Congress must increase funding for home heating assistance, Sanders said skyrocketing gasoline prices also must be addressed. Among proposals he has advanced are a windfall profits tax on big oil companies and a crackdown on greedy speculators who are artificially driving prices higher in the largely unregulated energy futures market.

"Vermonters are sick and tired of paying over $4 a gallon for gasoline; and $5 a gallon for diesel, while Exxon-Mobil has made more profits in the last two years than any company in the history of the world and the 5 largest oil companies have made over $600 billion in profits since George W. Bush has been president," Sanders said.

In the long term, Sanders added, "We must move aggressively to break our dependency on foreign oil and fossil fuels in general. This is an issue which addresses affordability, national security and reversing global warming. As a member of both the energy and environmental committees, I am working hard on both energy efficiency and moving this country to such sustainable energies as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass."