House leaders query Citgo on oil discounts for needy

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 22 -- Two US House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders have requested information from Citgo Petroleum Corp. about the Petroleos de Venezuela SA subsidiary's program to provide heating oil at a discount to needy US families.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who chairs the committee, and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs its oversight and investigations subcommittee, noted media reports over several months that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was interested in such a program.

"Unfortunately, many of President Chavez's public statements concerning the United States government suggest that his purportedly altruistic motives may camouflage his true motivations," the two lawmakers said in a Feb. 15 letter to Citgo Pres. and Chief Executive Felix M. Rodriguez.

"President Chavez has repeatedly demonstrated a warped view of the United States and its leaders, as well as bizarre concepts of fundamental justice," they maintained.

Venezuela also has developed close ties to Cuba, Syria, Iran, and Libya and other nations that have "undisputed ties to terrorism," Barton and Whitfield said.

Noting that the committee wanted to better understand Venezuela's offering discounted heating oil to select low-income US communities, they asked how the program was conceived, how and why its beneficiaries are selected, how it's being implemented, what its status is in each of the proposed communities, and whether the program violates any antitrust laws.

They also request all of Citgo's records of the program, along with responses to the questions, by Feb. 23.

In a Feb. 17 response, Rodriguez said the Houston-based refiner and marketer initiated the program as a continuation of its response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita when heating oil prices began to increase.

"Citgo's interest in a discount heating oil program for low-income people began about the same time as a request from a number of United States senators asking energy companies to provide heating oil assistance to low-income people," he said.

The discount heating oil program has been implemented through existing charities that historically have provided low-cost heating oil to low-income people, Rodriguez continued. "These charities select the recipients of the program," he said.

He said the company would attempt to comply with Barton and Whitfield's request for all records pertaining to the program but noted it would take longer than a week. "Citgo should be able to provide such copies to you within 30 days," Rodriguez said.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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