The CEO of Citgo Petroleum Corp. joined Gov. John Baldacci on Thursday in celebrating the first delivery of heating oil under a Venezuelan-sponsored program to provide fuel assistance to needy households in Maine.
A shiny tank truck with a Citgo logo emblazoned on its side delivered 64 gallons of fuel to the home of Mary and Malcolm Lyons, who are in their late 80s and receive help with their heating bills under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
At a table set up at the end of the Lyons' driveway, Baldacci and Felix Rodriguez, Citgo's president and chief executive officer, signed an agreement spelling out the terms by which Citgo will donate $5.5 million to help low income Mainers keep warm.
The thermometer on the Lyons' century-old clapboard home registered an unseasonable 50 degrees as Baldacci and Mary Lyons expressed their gratitude to Venezuela company for responding to Maine's appeal for help.
"Thanks to the Venezuelan people who worked with our governor to make this all happen to us," she said.
With this winter's sharp rise in oil prices and the federal government's refusal to increase LIHEAP benefits, Baldacci said Maine called on multinational oil companies to offer assistance to "the most vulnerable in our society."
"Citgo-Venezuela was the only corporation to come forward and recognize the need that was out there," the governor said.
Under the agreement, the Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company is selling 8 million gallons of heating oil on the open market and donating what amounts to a 40 percent discount to Maine. The sum that will provide an additional $100 worth of fuel to each of Maine's 48,000 LIHEAP beneficiaries.
Citgo has previously agreed to provide discounted oil in Massachusetts and the Bronx, N.Y., and is working on similar deals in Rhode Island and Vermont.
In Maine, it is also donating 120,000 gallons of oil to 40 homeless shelters and providing discounted oil to households on Indian reservations.
The oil delivered to the Lyons was going for just under $2.35 a gallon. The state's latest weekly survey found that the average price statewide was $2.36, or nearly 50 cents higher than at this time last year, according to the Office of Energy Independence and Security.
Critics say Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was offering oil deals to Maine and other cold weather states in the Northeast to embarrass President Bush, whom he has called "a madman." But Baldacci brushed aside questions about politics and focused on the need to help Mainers get through the winter.
Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez was unable to join the ceremony because of a flight delay but was expected to appear at a similar event later in the day in Old Town. He said in a statement that the outreach program was humanitarian, not political.
That statement was echoed by Rodriguez, who said Chavez was motivated by the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina and wanted to direct aid to the Northeast, where Citgo has a large customer base and a high concentration of employees.
The oil executive said businesses have a responsibility to do more than just make money and that Chavez directed him to provide oil to help needy people survive the winter.