_ (31650)

New Haven officials have come one step closer to finalizing a deal that would bring 4.8 million gallons of discounted Venezuelan heating oil to Connecticut, city sources announced Sunday.

Deputy Mayoral Chief of Staff Pierrette Silverman, who has spearheaded the negotiations, said she received a call from Venezuelan Energy Minister Fadi Kabboul late last week during which Kabboul promised to provide Connecticut with enough heating oil to serve approximately 24,000 families this winter. Silverman said she expects an agreement to be signed this week after details between Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. and local energy interests are ironed out.

The agreement is part of a program launched by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez late last year. In what some have said was a public relations move to improve Chavez’s public image in the United States and undermine President George W. Bush ’68, Chavez announced he would begin sending discounted heating oil to low-income residents throughout the United States through Citgo. Since the announcement, Boston and New York have utilized the discounted heating oil, and other Eastern states have signed contracts with Citgo as well.

The discounted heating oil will be available to local families within two weeks, Silverman said. Because Citgo has already deployed the program in other states — including she said bringing the oil to Connecticut should not be difficult.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel; we’re just adding on another state,” she said. “We just have to figure out what’s the most efficient way to deliver the program in Connecticut.”

Families currently receiving subsidies from the federal government for energy costs under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and social service agencies, such as homeless shelters, will be eligible to purchase the discounted heating oil, Silverman said. Two hundred gallons will be allotted to each family in a one-time delivery at a 40 percent discount. Social service organizations can expect 8,000 to 10,000 gallons each if the contract signed is similar to those signed in other states, she said.

The discounted heating oil program allows Citizens Energy Group, which has coordinated the program in Massachusetts, to purchase discounted oil from Citgo and then distribute it to local energy providers, Silverman said. Because residents will be dealing with the same energy providers as before, there should be no hassle on the consumer’s end, she said.

City officials made the announcement at a press conference on Sunday. Although some aldermen and Yale professors have questioned the merit of soliciting oil from a country whose relations with the United States are often strained, city officials have said repeatedly that keeping families warm is more important than worrying about political concerns.

“Low- and middle-wage workers are finding it harder than ever to heat their homes and make ends meet,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a statement issued on Sunday. “This program is a fast and effective way to help them make it through the winter.”

State Rep. Bill Dyson, D-New Haven, said it is necessary for any city that is not completely self-sufficient to strike deals with any parties that serve its interests.

“I’d love for us to be [economically] independent,” Dyson said. “But … [until] we can get people out of their cars, we end up searching out oil everywhere we can find.”

Comments