Budget tight now? Wait until winter

Joe Dunning

Rising oil prices are already affecting commuting and travel. Soon they will affect how we stay warm, or in some cases, if we stay warm.

Heating costs will escalate this winter, experts say, and that could create problems for people already struggling to make ends meet. Moreover, it could create some dangerous and deadly situations, especially for the poor and elderly.

“This issue is so important,” Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, said last week. “You’re going to have people dying as a result of the high cost of energy. That, we can’t allow to happen as a nation.”

The Energy Department last week reported heating oil costs are likely to jump 22 percent and natural gas bills, on average, will rise 10 percent between October and March.

“As winter comes on, we’re going to have some people in difficult straits,” Kuhl said. “My fear is they’ll make some bad choices because they have to.”

Specifically, residents might be forced to limit their heat or go without, Kuhl said. That creates obvious health issues that could turn fatal.

Also, some residents may decide to install wood stoves or use an alternative heat source which, if not properly installed or used, can start fires or produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide.

Mike Sprague, director of Steuben County Office of Emergency Services, said we’re headed for “a scary winter heating season.”

He agreed high heating bills will force some homeowners to seek out cheaper heating sources such as wood. Some will not properly install the units and, as a result, more house fires will occur, he predicted.

“It’s almost like we’re taking a step back in time,” Sprague said. “Twenty years ago there were a lot more house fires than now. Prevention has done a great job.”

Kuhl said high oil prices won’t change until the country adopts a comprehensive energy policy that he believes should include drilling offshore and in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. At the same time, the federal government should provide incentives for the development and widespread use of alternative fuels to replace gasoline and carbon sources, Kuhl said. Those would include hydrogen fueled vehicles and solar, wind and nuclear energy.

The energy crisis is the most important issue facing the nation, Kuhl said. It is also one of the most polarizing politically.

Democrat Eric Massa, Kuhl’s opponent in this November’s election, supports his party’s view that drilling won’t solve the current problem of high oil prices. Democrats claim it could take up to a decade for any new drilling to result in an increase the gas supply.

Kuhl disputes that notion, saying that while tapping into supplies such as that in Alaska would take several years, areas do exist where oil could be reached and refined in a matter of months.

Massa has said a solution to high gas prices does not rest with a widespread oil drilling initiative. Instead, Big Oil should be taxed, with the money offered to American automakers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles. Fuel standards for cars should be raised to 50 miles per gallon by 2020 and investments should be made into clean energy sources, he said.

Any offshore drilling should be left to the states to decide and all other strategic reserves should be left alone in case of emergencies and future shortages, Massa said.