From: Julie Vorman, Reuters
Published September 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Senate Energy Committee Chairman: U.S. Poor Families Need More Energy Help

WASHINGTON — Congress may need to boost funding for a $230 million program that helps poor American families make their homes more energy efficient because of Hurricane Katrina's impact on energy prices, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee said Tuesday.


Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, said he asked Energy Secretary Sam Bodman to estimate how much additional funding the federal government may need for a weatherization assistance program.


The program helps low-income families pay for more efficient heating and cooling systems in their homes and better windows.


"It is becoming clear that heating homes this winter will cost quite a bit more than last year. For low-income families, the higher prices could create real hardships," Domenici said in a statement.


Last week, the Energy Information Administration told Americans to prepare for a 71 percent jump in natural gas winter heating costs, due in part of Katrina's damage to offshore gas production and processing plants. Households that use heating oil will see an increase of around 31 percent.


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"After an assessment by Secretary Bodman, Congress should consider allocating additional funds for weatherization programs that could help families use less energy," Domenici said.


The weatherization assistance program for low-income families had a budget of $230 million in fiscal 2005, which ends in two weeks.


Before Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, the Bush administration proposed to keep the same funding in fiscal 2006. House and Senate budget writers endorsed an increase to $240 million.


The federal government also runs a related $2.2 billion program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, to help poor families pay their winter heating bills. The White House and a House appropriations committee have proposed cutting that funding to $2 billion in fiscal 2006.


Separately, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said on Tuesday that energy legislation is being prepared that would make more oil and natural gas supplies available and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.


"We are working on one as we speak," DeLay told reporters.


"I was also shown the vulnerability when eight or nine refineries have been shut down and requiring us to waive EPA rules so that we can get gasoline to the market and allow us to buy gasoline from Europe, which we haven't been able to in the past," DeLay said.


Texas Republican Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said last week he was preparing a bill that would speed up environmental reviews and permits needed to build new U.S. refineries.


Source: Reuters


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