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Santorum Puts Politics Ahead of Help for the Poor

The Philadelphia Inquirer Joseph P. Kennedy II People across every political party, religious faction, income level and occupation can agree that there is an acute energy crisis not just here in the United States, but around the globe. It’s a shared crisis that has led to widespread anger toward our dependence on foreign oil and reckless emission of greenhouse gases. It’s also a personal crisis occurring each night in homes across this country when temperatures plunge below freezing. And many, including some conservatives like Rick Santorum, have recognized that the impact of energy and affordability falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. But unfortunately, Santorum’s acknowledgement of that burden in a recent commentary (“Reducing U.S. oil appetite,” Jan. 31) fails to offer any useful ideas to bring immediate and much-needed relief to families who simply can’t keep up with the price of energy to stay warm. Santorum condemned the company I founded, the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation, for accepting heating oil from CITGO and Venezuela and in turn giving it to the poor in his community who would otherwise face real and immediate health risks; the same poor to whom he denied additional aid when, as a U.S. Senator, he voted to decrease federal fuel assistance while voting to increase taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies making huge windfall profits. Just ask Helen Chatwick, an 82-year-old widow living alone in a Philadelphia rowhouse[sic], if she agrees with Santorum’s priorities. Ask about her freezing pipes, filling up her tank 25 gallons at a time, and counting pennies to pay for heating oil. The truth of the matter is that Citizens Energy has been providing low-income people discounted energy, including oil, for almost 30 years. And I never heard Santorum condemning our work when we were just providing natural-gas [sic] assistance to his poor constituents during that time. His voice only warmed up to the poor suffering from high energy costs in his cheap-shot commentary used to voice opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by denouncing the work of Citizens Energy. Our mission has always been to provide as much assistance as possible to as many people as possible when they have nowhere else to turn. And we continued that mission this last year, in writing to every OPEC nation and every U.S. oil company -- ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and others -- asking them to provide a small share of their windfall profits to help ease the burden felt by the very consumers, such as Chatwick, who depend upon this commodity to survive. And for the last three years, we have been working with CITGO Petroleum and Venezuela because they were the only company and the only country to respond. The real issue is that the United States has different cultural views from many of the countries from which we import our oil. Santorum wants it both ways. He wants to condemn my nonprofit oil company for accepting a donation of oil from Venezuela to help the poor, while giving a free hand to other oil companies like ExxonMobil who buy from countries such as Saudi Arabia, ruled by a monarchy without a free press or any tolerance of dissent. And while I fully support Santorum’s push for clean coal technology, we are a long way from actually producing any energy from clean coal and even longer from converting the 83 percent of Pennsylvania households that do not use electricity for heat to use this new clean energy source. What are the poor supposed to do in the meantime? It is reasonable to ask Big Oil to share some of their bounty -- which has come simply because of the run-up in prices and not as a result of innovation or efficiencies. In the last five years, the top 10 U.S. oil and gas companies have pocketed $818 billion in earnings before taxes, while investing next to nothing in developing renewable energy. So if Santorum is truly concerned about the future of American energy policy and its impact on the poor, I would welcome hearing his voice added to those calling for increases in funding the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. If he is truly concerned about the fact that Venezuela has provided more than $100-million worth of assistance this winter alone -- which will help about 20,000 poor households this winter in Pennsylvania -- I would welcome hearing his voice added to those calling on the biggest U.S. oil companies to contribute their fair share as well. And if Santorum truly believes that we shouldn’t take this oil for the poor because he doesn’t agree with the policies of Chavez, doesn’t that impose a moral standard on which we should base all other trade relations? I don’t hear him asking for the United States to stop accepting all oil imports from Venezuela or other undemocratic regimes. If he wants to be consistent, he should be prepared to walk because the imposition of the Santorum Doctrine would mean not enough oil to allow us to drive to work, fly to Washington, or heat our homes. Any moral standard should apply to all Americans, not just the poor and vulnerable shivering by the roadside of the American economy, who can’t possibly wait for clean coal technology to heat their homes. It is unfortunate that so much moral energy is invested in condemning others rather than offering real help to the poor. The Carpenter from Nazareth knew something about family values -- it meant helping the family of a man, especially the poor, the destitute, the forgotten, and the weak, who could use a little bit of compassionate conservatism. Santorum puts politics ahead of help for the poor.

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