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LePage says Mills should push Biden harder on tapping heating oil reserves

Former Gov. Paul LePage and former congressman Bruce Poliquin, both of whom are seeking their old positions, spoke about a potential heating oil crisis during an event at Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon.
Kevin Miller
Maine Public
Former Gov. Paul LePage and former congressman Bruce Poliquin, both of whom are seeking their old positions, spoke about a potential heating oil crisis during an event at Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon.

HERMON — Former Gov. Paul LePage called on the administrations of Gov. Janet Mills and President Joe Biden to do more to address a potential heating crisis this winter in Maine.

During a press conference at the busy Dysart’s truck stop along I-95 in Hermon, LePage said Mills should be pushing harder for the Biden administration to release heating oil from a federal stockpile. The Republican, who is challenging Mills in next Tuesday’s election along with independent Sam Hunkler, also urged her to sign a waiver to allow the sale of heating oil with higher sulphur content and to work with other governors on solutions.

"We just need to solve this issue,” said LePage, who was joined by Republican congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin. “And it's not about politicking and it's not about fighting. Janet, let's work together to figure out how we can get heating oil, an adequate supply of heating oil, for the winter months."

Poliquin, meanwhile, accused Biden of driving up oil and gasoline prices by blocking construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline immediately after taking office. The former two-term congressman also sought to accuse his opponent next Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, of enabling higher energy prices by supporting the Democratic agenda. But Golden, who votes opposite of his party leadership more than any other Democrat, has called on Biden to allow for more domestic oil exploration and drilling. Golden and Poliquin are joined on Tuesday’s ballot by independent Tiffany Bond in what will be a ranked-choice election.

Heating oil was averaging $5.42 a gallon statewide last week, which is more than 70% higher than the same week last year. Oil dealers are reporting tight supplies and there are concerns throughout the state that this winter could bring more fatalities in Maine as residents either succumb to the cold or are killed trying to keep their houses warm through unsafe methods.

A spokesman for Mills said the governor is already pursuing all of those avenues and others as winter approaches.

For instance, Mills joined the other New England governors in personally urging President Biden and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to release oil from the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. Former President Obama created the 1-million-gallon stockpile in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy but it has only been tapped once as part of the federal response to the superstorm.

Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said the governor is also already talking with federal officials about the process of receiving a waiver to allow sales of higher-sulphur oil and is ready to issue another waiver to allow delivery drivers to work longer hours, if necessary.

“Governor Mills is way ahead of Paul LePage already,” Ogden said. “Her Administration has been working on these issues for weeks now, and we will continue to work on them to ensure that Maine people are able to stay safe and warm in their homes this winter. While LePage is holding press conferences, Governor Mills has been taking action.”

Energy and electricity issues have emerged as a top issue in gubernatorial and congressional races across New England. Supplies of both heating oil and natural gas, which is used to generate most of New England's electricity, are tight globally because of lower production and the market disruptions caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced Maine would receive an additional $43 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – something that Mills and members of Maine’s congressional delegation have been urging for some time.

But LePage says only a small share of Mainers qualify for LIHEAP.

"We're talking about the majority of Maine — the majority of Maine people, and LIHEAP doesn't go to everyone,” LePage said.

State Rep. Joe Perry, D-Bangor, agreed that Maine is in a crisis. Perry said the Mills administration has been working to address these issues, including by sending $850 inflation relief checks to most Maine taxpayers earlier this year. And he said newly elected lawmakers should consider additional steps as soon as they are sworn in December.

"The economy is still really strong, revenue is coming in strong,” Perry said in a response to the LePage-Poliquin press conference. “That gives us a lot of options to tackle this problem and help Mainers. The $850 checks went a long way to help people. Maybe that's the next step: doing that again."

The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a question about whether the president is considering tapping the northeastern heating oil reserve.