Opinion

Commentary: Suspension of Chavez largesse should be cue for Alaska

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

Plunging oil prices have Citgo Petroleum, the Venezuelan-owned company, thinking twice about its generous provision of free heating oil to Alaska villages. The program is on hold for now, with fuel prices in the Bush still sky high and bitter cold making fuel even more precious. Villagers who have counted on the program for the past two years don't know if they'll have it this winter.

Citgo's previous aid came when the state wasn't doing much to help. Due to the anti-American stance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Citgo's aid offers angered and embarrassed some Alaskans and Americans. Some villages refused Citgo's fuel. Others argued that the United States is happy to have Citgo and its retailers operating here and paying taxes, so spare the angst about taking their heating fuel donation.

The state offered some relief to Alaskans that will make it easier for villages to do without Citgo's controversial aid, even though fuel prices spiked much higher. The $1,200-a-person "resource rebate" paid this fall was more than enough to offset the absence of Citgo's 100-gallon heating fuel gift. The state also boosted funding for a program that helps low-income families pay their heating bills.

What Alaskans should do now is consider whether there is more to be done to help those Alaskans who live in villages stuck with high-priced fuel. Many remote communities had to buy a full winter's worth of fuel months in advance. That means people from Sleetmute to Kobuk don't get the benefit of falling oil prices that Alaskans on the road system enjoy. In Anchorage, gas prices have fallen by about $2 a gallon since July. For Bush villages, no break at all.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.

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