“We thank Venezuela very much – they’re leaders,” said Mary Lyons at the signing, “and the governor.” Photo by Ramona du Houx

Winter 2005-2006

Article by Ramona du Houx

“This is about keeping the people of Maine warm and safe this winter,” said Governor Baldacci after he signed a deal for discounted oil from Citgo.

“It is imperative we act to ensure our citizens are safe and warm this winter. The cost of heating oil has risen dramatically and the federal government has failed to provide the resources needed to help all Maine citizens,” said the governor.

As soon as oil prices began to skyrocket, after Hurricane Katrina, the governor put in a request, along with members of Congress, to various oil companies to get a substantial discount on oil for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens.

Despite record profits for all oil companies last year, only the Venezuelan government-run oil company, Citgo, responded.

“Citgo-Venezuela was the only corporation to come forward and recognize the need that was out there,” the governor said.

On January 12, at the home of Mary and Malcolm Lyons, the governor with Felix Rodriguez, CEO of Citgo, signed a historic agreement between Citgo and Maine.

Citgo agreed to sell eight million gallons of heating oil on the open market and will donate a 40 percent discount off the wholesale price to Maine. This $5.5 million will provide an additional $100-plus worth of fuel to each of Maine’s 48,000 households enrolled in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), like the Lyons.

“We thank Venezuela very much, their leaders,” said Mary Lyons at the signing, “and the governor.”

“A hundred dollars worth of oil makes a difference for us,” said Malcolm, a retired hunting guide, enjoying the company of the governor as they talked about their passion for riding motorcycles.

“I like him,” said Mary, referring to the governor. “He’s so personable. I didn’t know what to expect. He’s wonderful, and so is what he is doing for the people of Maine.”

The couple lives in a 108-year-old home that is a challenge to heat. Earlier in the winter they were recipients of the governor’s KeepME Warm program when volunteers winterized their home. The winterization could save Mary and Malcolm Lyons up to $250 dollars this year.

“The first time I ever bought oil for this house, it was 10, no, 12 cents a gallon,” Malcolm said. The Lyonses currently spend more than $300 a month on oil in the winter. LIHEAP only provides them with around $440 for the entire winter.

After the signing Baldacci and Rodriguez pumped 64 gallons of Citgo oil into the basement tank at the Lyonses’ home with the help of deliveryman John Worth.

The price of oil was running nearly 50 cents per gallon higher than last year at the same time, obviously making homes harder to heat throughout the state. People have been forced to turn down the heat and in some cases endanger their health. The Governor’s Office has received calls from people who can’t afford more oil. One home in northern Maine had the toilet freeze over. The deal with Citgo will go a long way to help those in the state that need this assistance the most.

During a time of high oil prices and reduced federal heating assistance, Governor Baldacci has shown that he is steadfast in protecting the people of Maine.

“This is about people,” Baldacci said. “My responsibility is to keep them safe, secure and warm.”

Community agencies throughout the state will help distribute Venezuela’s $5.5 million gift to 48,000 needy Mainers.

After leaving Mary and Malcolm Lyons with a full tank of oil, Citgo representatives and the governor traveled to Indian Island for the signing of the agreement between Citgo and Maine’s Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes.

Bernardo Alvarez-Herrera, Venezuela’s ambassador to the US, sent a statement that Penobscot tribal Chief James Sappier read aloud at the tribal signing: “We are pleased that Citgo has the resources to be able to help keep people in New England warm this winter. In Venezuela, as in your country, our indigenous people have been left behind for too long.” “All this is a tremendous humanitarian effort,” said the governor. “We are grateful to Citgo and the Venezuelan government for their generosity.”

“We all live in a worldwide community,” said Rodriguez. “We all need to help one another. Many in my country have lived in poverty; we understand the difficulties. We have been there. Thank all of you for permitting us to help you in this small way.”

Citgo will provide 950,000 gallons of discounted oil to nearly 1,000 low-income households on reservation lands. The tribes will get a 40 percent discount off the market price. The deal is expected to help tribal residents save around $900,000 in fuel costs.

“This is an extraordinary government-to-government relationship,” said Sappier. “This agreement will help our low-income families with the ever-increasing cost of oil. It’s an extraordinary savings for poor people.”

Citgo is also donating 120,000 gallons of oil to 40 homeless shelters, which represents 70 percent of Maine’s homeless shelter needs.