Rell questions Venezuelan oil deal’s legality

Gov. M. Jodi Rell is asking Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 to review the legality of a plan to bring discounted Venezuelan heating oil to low-income residents across the state.

In a statement released Tuesday, Rell said previous reservations Blumenthal had about the proposal motivated Rell’s decision to ask for a legal review.

“[Blumenthal] had raised questions earlier about the reliability of the supply and quality of oil,” Rell’s spokesperson Judd Everhart said. “The governor is just asking for a thorough review of any issues that may be associated with this so she can make a decision on how to move forward.”

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., a Democrat who is seeking to unseat the Republican governor in this year’s gubernatorial race, announced earlier this month that city officials were in the final stages of negotiating an agreement to bring 4.8 million gallons of discounted heating oil to Connecticut’s low-income residents through Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp. New Haven Deputy Mayoral Chief of Staff Pierrette Silverman said Tuesday that all necessary parties have agreed to the proposal and that she expects the contract to be signed within the next few weeks.

Silverman, who initiated the dialogue between New Haven and Venezuelan Energy Minister Fadi Kabboul, said there is no legal problem with the proposal as it stands and that she thinks Rell’s request for a legal review is politically motivated.

“Considering the fact that 10 other states and cities have signed on, I don’t see where it actually is illegal,” she said. “This speaks of political posturing more than anything else, and it’s unfortunate because I would hate to see [Rell] deny people of heating oil who really need it.”

In her statement, Rell also pointed to the controversial nature of the plan as a potential problem. Political experts have said that Venezuela may be using the heating oil as political propaganda, a sentiment that Rell echoed in her statement.

“For Connecticut to accept discount oil from, essentially, the government of Venezuela may be extremely distasteful because of that nation’s strident criticism of the United States government,” she said.

But advocates of the plan have said that political considerations should not prevent the state from providing heat to low-income residents.

The discounted heating oil program was announced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez late last year. Boston and New York City are currently receiving the discounted heating oil, and several other states on the East Coast have signed contracts with Citgo as well.

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