Michael Kinsley's recent piece disparaging me and Citizens Energy Corporation is high on opinion but low on fact ("More Hype Than Heat," op-ed, Dec. 12). His sour tone may be nothing more than political vigilantism, but it is also unfair to me and all the others who have worked for nearly seven years to make Citizens the effective force for the poor and the elderly that it is.
Lets get the record straight. First, with respect to natural gas, Kinsley just doesn't understand the industry. There is "old" cheap gas, but contrary to his charge Citizens has never bought a molecule of it. About 5 percent of our gas this year was sold at the pipeline blended rate Kinsley describes, the higher rate being used to increase the funds available to the poor. The rest of our gas, 95 percent of our volume, was bought, sold and transported in head-to-head competition with other natural gas companies.
This month alone we will sell $12 million of natural gas in purely commercial transactions. Calling these transactions "charity" is simply a misnomer based on misunderstanding. When Kinsley says that we would go out of business with decontrol, he doesn't realize that our sales are almost entirely in the only sector of the natural gas market that is already effectively decontrolled. Right from the start we also recognized that part of the problem in natural gas was the lack of competition and the need for regulatory reform. From the beginning we have been in Washington before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Congress representing consumer interests. Because we are in the business, we understand this complex industry, and as a result we bring a unique and, I believe, respected perspective to natural gas reform. What we have demonstrated in our business and in our advocacy is that the road to lower natural gas prices for consumers and an efficient energy market is through the opening up of transportation and competition. With these and other regulatory reforms we have been advocating, natural gas users could save $6 billion a year.
Regarding our oil activities, Kinsley seems begrudgingly to admit that we have been successful businessmen although he continues to try to create the illusion that somehow we haven't done it quite squarely. But we have done it squarely in the old-fashioned way: hard work and lots of long hours on the road. How many all-night flights to Nigeria or Venezuela or the Middle East or all the other places we have to visit has Kinsley taken? I've been to Nigeria alone 13 times.
Competition is stiff. To keep benefits up and to provide the seed money for new activities we have had to grow. Crude-oil volumes are up, and we have started new ventures in petroleum products. Would it have been better if we had just faded away when the going got tough rather than expanded to meet the challenge?
Instead of pocketing the savings -- "profits" to others -- we have continued to make the benefits available to the poor and the elderly of Massachusetts. One must remember that when we began there was no major fuel assistance program. In fact, over the years we have saved the state nearly $10 million -- $10 million that an ordinary entrepreneur could have kept for himself. Yes, we have "hyped" the problem of the poor and the high cost of fuel. As a result a lot of people in Massachusetts get fuel assistance who otherwise wouldn't know about it or wouldn't ask for it.
Of course, the article just ignores our other work. We are, through Citizens Conservation Corporation, the major company in Massachusetts providing in-depth conservation services to low-income tenants. We have already serviced more than 4,000 units, saving three-quarters of a million dollars annually. We have an energy management company, Citizens Heat and Power, serving schools, hospitals and other institutions. And we have a long series of international projects -- biomass systems in Costa Rica, solar hot water systems for maternity hospitals in Jamaica and Venezuela, a seed farm in Nigeria. Each of these has been a prototype financed by Citizens and developed in cooperation with local groups. Our resources are limited, but we have put ourselves on the line to try to make the world a better place.
I understand the limits of business; no one claims it can solve all social problems. Government is key. That's part of the reason I've decided to run for Congress. But what I also know is that a business can be run to help the poor and the elderly and to push the political process forward. That is what I have spent seven years doing, and I'm proud of it.