Another Energy Monster is Lurking

Mapping out policy work for the next couple of months and pushing aside today’s hottest energy issues for tomorrow’s, one topic is emerging as a painfully true, slumbering giant – the rising costs of home heating during the winter and the additional financial burden on Americans.

I could explain more, but I don’t really have to. The New York Times editorial team took care of it in this morning’s paper, and it’s worth reiterating here, there and everywhere:

Some Reality, PleaseIf the Senate could summon some wisdom, it would interrupt its mud wrestling over partisan placebos for the gas crisis long enough to debate something real: emergency help for the nation’s poorest families who face skyrocketing home heating costs this winter.

The Democratic leadership is wisely aiming for a procedural vote in the next day or two that would free up time to debate a badly needed measure to double the existing Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $5.1 billion. With 50 co-sponsors, including 12 Republicans, the measure is a must-pass priority if Congress is to have any credibility in facing the energy crisis with something more than the hot air of campaign rhetoric.

Utility analysts warn that the price of heating oil could double this winter in the hardest-hit regions, while natural-gas costs could shoot up 50 percent. This can only mean a deepening crisis for the poorest Americans — the disabled and retired on fixed incomes and impoverished families with children.

Close to six million households were helped last year, but the demand is growing as costs rise and more Americans slip deeper into poverty. Accordingly, the average grant has dropped nationally from $349 to $305. This meets only a fraction of true need and leaves recipients in greater danger of utility cutoffs as they scrimp even more than they have already on food and medicine.

Lawmakers should be mindful that the emergency measure is entitled the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act — a notice that the need extends well beyond frigid northeastern winters. The poor in Arizona can turn to the program this summer to deal with dangerous stretches in the 110 degree range and electricity cutoffs.

What is called for is one of the nation’s scarcest resources — bipartisanship in the Capitol. The energy crisis is a confounding challenge. But helping the poorest Americans right now with basic survival should be the first priority, even if they are not visible on the nightly news every night, griping at the gas pump.

— Kari M.

2 Responses to Another Energy Monster is Lurking

  1. Daniel Haran says:

    What happens if a significant percentage of households are insulated before winter? When my parents insulated, it reduced fuel use by 40%, and their house wasn’t horribly insulated compared to the average.

    It seems insulating the oldest, draftiest housing stock could significantly reduce demand and impact prices. Does anyone have analysis or data about this? It would be an elegant way of reducing costs for everyone.

  2. mauri pelto says:

    I was telling my students all spring that the political pressure from home heating this coming winter would surpass that from high gas prices even. It is a regional issue, but the costs are even higher and it is harder to conserve than for driving. Here in the northeast most homes are already well insulated. The projected average cost for heating a home with our oil company for the upcoming season, $5200, that is with prices at $4.79 for home heating oil. It is not just the poor who are going to have trouble with this bill, which in 2006 for our oil company averaged $2100.