Watertown Daily Times: Senator targeted over oil measure

(June 23, 2010)

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HOME HEATING ISSUE: GOP says Aubertine betrayed constituents




Senate Republicans accused Democrat Darrel J. Aubertine of betraying his north country constituents by supporting a bill that they argue will increase home heating costs — although there's some disagreement among oil lobbyists even on that.

The state Senate Republican Campaign Committee began directing e-mails and robocalls to the Cape Vincent Democrat's constituents Friday, saying the senator had "just imposed a massive new cost" — up to $900 a year for the average family — on district residents who use home heating oil while New York City residents got a "sweetheart deal."

But Andrew G. Mangione, Mr. Aubertine's spokesman, said "the SRCC is engaging in fear-mongering and spreading misinformation to start their negative campaign, when the facts are that these regulations do not go into effect for two years and the home heating oil association actually says that, at that point, reduced sulfur will save consumers money on their monthly bills."

The Republicans' outreach was in response to a party-line vote Thursday to approve a bill which would reduce the amount of sulfur in No. 2 home heating oil to 15 parts per million by July 1, 2012.

The Republicans' estimate came from Hart Energy Consulting, Houston, which "expected" home heating oil to increase 20 to 30 cents per gallon as refineries adapted to making more lower sulfur oil. If there is a cold weather surge, consultants estimated prices could jump 30 to 60 cents per gallon.

Jeffrey R. LaPoint, assistant manager at Griffith Energy, said north country homeowners burn between 250 and 3,000 gallons of home heating oil every winter, depending on several factors — size of their home, how well it is insulated and if the oil is their primary or secondary source of heat.

Mr. Mangione said reducing sulfur should decrease both industry and consumer costs, because low-sulfur oil burns more efficiently and because the same standards are already in place for on-road diesel fuel. Heating oil is basically the same as diesel fuel.

"If demand does in fact outweigh supply in the winter of 2012-13, there are provisions in the bill that empower the governor and NYSERDA to push the implementation date back," he added.

John Maniscalco, president of the state Oil Heating Association, wrote in a March 17 Buffalo News editorial that the industry could save $40 million annually in maintenance costs and households could save 4 percent on their bills if the Senate bill was passed.

The legislation was also supported by some health and environmental organizations, including the American Lung Association of New York, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sen. Bill Perkins, D-Harlem, introduced the bill over concerns he had about pollution's effect on New Yorkers' health.

He noted New York was the biggest consumer of home heating oil nationwide. Three-quarters of the consumption is in the New York City area, creating a pollution problem that he said causes asthma and increases the risk of cancer and heart and lung disease.

"In fact, 300,000 children in New York City have been diagnosed with asthma, and hospitalizations cost approximately $10,000 per visit and over $240 million a year," he said. "This legislation will save money, and in these times of financial hardship, we cannot afford to ignore this cost-saver."

"The issue here is whether or not these companies can get up to speed quick enough," said Sen. Thomas W. Libous, Binghamton, the Republican deputy minority leader "I say it will hurt the supply. The demand will be great. Those who can get it will pay two or three times more than they had to pay this winter."

Mr. Aubertine supported a Republican amendment to change the implementation date to 2014, but it did not receive the 32 votes needed for passage.

Mr. Libous also noted that the bill was specific only to No. 2 oil and that "many large residential units and large offices" in New York City use No. 6 oil.

"Many people in the metropolitan area will be exempt, yet many people outside the metropolitan area will have a tremendous hardship," he said. "I don't see that as fair."

Not so, said Mr. Mangione.

"The narrow scope of the bill is because New York City is doing its own regulations, so this bill won't undermine what's expected to be tighter restrictions in the five boroughs," he said.