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Maine Freezes While Washington Snoozes

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"Are these people going to be found frozen?" These are words that define what the cold of winter means to so many in Maine. Stark, frightening words from the owner of a small oil dealership listening to the pleas of too many of his customers, unable to pay for their heating oil deliveries -- and depicted in a stirring New York Times article, "In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart", on January 4, 2012.

The price of heating oil has gone up by 40 cents this year to $3.71 per gallon. This while Congress and the Obama administration have cut the energy assistance program, meant to help the poor to pay their heating bills. In Maine alone that covers 65,000 households who must now make do with $483, down from $804 a year ago. All this while the major oil companies are raking in humongous and record profits!

And all this while Washington snoozes away, letting the oil boys, both here and over there, walk all over us while our fellow citizens freeze up in Maine and the many other northern states throughout the land.

Yes, occasionally lip service is given to the issue of runaway oil prices and the suspicious peculiarities of their formation where pricing loses all connect to the oiligopoly's mantra, "It's all about supply and demand."

To that end, the administration announced the formation of a financial fraud task force, "The Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group." The panel was meant to focus on fraud in the energy markets, and to monitor the oil and gas markets for potential criminal violation, i.e., price fixing, manipulation, etc.) To date, nearly one year after this brave announcement, nada! Not a peep from Washington, the administration, or the Justice Department -- the agency vested with the responsibility of organizing the task force -- nothing.

Nothing from an administration that has sat idly by while, during the three years since its investiture, the price of crude oil, the determiner of the price of all downstream products, from gasoline to heating oil, has increased by over 200 percent, from the low $30/barrel in February 2009 to $100/barrel today. (You do the numbers -- over $60/barrel difference in price between then and now, times the 19 million barrels daily U.S. consumption). The cost to the nation in economic activity, employment, not to speak of simply dollars and cents is immeasurable, and of course the freezing home owners in Maine.

There is a profound lack in this administration's understanding of the functioning of oil markets. Nor is there anyone on board who can help navigate the ship of state on this issue. The Department of Energy, when not handing out hundreds of millions to the likes of the Solyndra project, is totally at sea in dealing with the unforgiving world of energy markets. The Department, headed by Nobel Prize-winning Steven Chu, a brilliant physicist but totally out of his element as Energy Secretary, in dealing with the rough and tumble of the oil world, enabling him to utter such misguided nonsense from his U.S. Department of Energy perch as: "OPEC is going to do what they are going to do based on their own interests. I frankly don't focus on what OPEC should do, I focus on what we should do."

This coming from the world's largest consumer of oil, giving the OPEC cartel carte blanche to continue their manipulations to their hearts content, and at our expense. Tell it to the people in Maine, Mr. Chu.

Combine the Energy Department's ineffectiveness to the vapid oversight of oil futures and petroleum products trading on the commodity exchanges, you have a recipe for disaster. Don't believe me? Then go ask the good and freezing people up there in Maine.