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Congress investigate venezuela program helping poor { February 21 2006 }

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 Last updated 12:41 p.m. PT
Citgo to cooperate with oil program probe


WASHINGTON -- Citgo Petroleum Corp. says it plans to cooperate with the House Energy chairman's request for documents on Venezuela's program that provides heating oil to poor Americans.

"Citgo shall attempt to comply with your request," Felix M. Rodriguez, president and CEO of Citgo, a Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, wrote in a Feb. 17 letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Energy committee spokeswoman Lisa Miller said Tuesday the lawmakers were talking with Citgo about a timetable for its response.

Barton and Rep. Ed Whitfield, the Republican chairman of the subcommittee for oversight and investigations, last week asked Citgo to provide all records about the program by Feb. 23. The lawmakers said they are concerned that the oil deals are "part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy" toward the United States.

Rodriguez said Citgo will probably provide copies within 30 days. He said Citgo launched its program around the time a number of senators asked energy companies to provide heating oil assistance to the poor.

Tensions have run high recently between the Bush administration and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Some Chavez critics have charged the heating aid program is an attempt to embarrass President Bush.

Miller said the committee was eager to resolve the oil records inquiry "before President Chavez starts hiding Citgo's records under his obnoxious, 'don't-mess-with-me-girl' policy toward the United States."

Former Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., last week defended the program, saying Barton and Whitfield should praise Venezuela's efforts to help needy Americans rather than question the political motives of Chavez. Kennedy heads Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit energy agency helping to deliver the discounted oil in several states.

Rodriguez said Citgo is working with existing charities that "historically" have provided low-cost heating oil to the poor. Citgo has discounted heating oil programs in Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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