New Hampshire energy officials today warned that voters may leave chilly homes to vote in the Feb. 23 presidential primary unless the Department of Energy imposes mandatory production levels to boost home heating oil supplies.
August figures compiled by the governor's Energy Council indicate New Hampshire faces a major shortage of home heating oil, with supplies down 49.7 percent at the retail level and 24 percent at homes around the state.
Despite assurances from President Carter that the state will have adequate heating oil supplies, New Hampshire political leaders are beginning to question whether that promise will be enough to keep the voters warm.
"If he doesn't make good on his promise-- and I'm confident that he will complete his promise, and that he fully intends to-- the political ramifications are very sever," said Paul Ambrosino, director of the policy analysis section of the governor's energy council.
"The president is going to be charging through New Hampshire in January and February and he's got to make sure there's plenty of heating oil," Said Ambrosino. "But regardless of the first primary in the country, he has to do it because you don't want people freezing to death."
Even Gov. Hugh Gallen, chairman of the Carter reelection committee here, has privately expresssed increased concern over heating oil supplies despite personal assurances from the White House, statehouse sources said.
Testifying before a DOE hearing in Washington today, the state's director of duels policy management, Fred Seigel, called the president's plan to stockpile 240 million barrels of oil nationwide "inadequate."
"The DOE and the oil companies have to get on the stick and keep building up supplies and increase the flow of heating oil or else it's going to be cold in New Hampshire," Seigel said later.
The DOE's economic regulatory commission completed a second day of hearings today on the possibility of requiring increased fuel oil production, with energy officials in the hard-hit Northeast urging a speedy decision.
"It's time to go. Little time should be devoted to debating the wisdom of the program," said Ambrosino.
"The current buildup just won't make it. It won't be a sizable enough cushion to protect our heating needs," he said.
Home heating oil supplies in New Hampshire for July were down 25 percent at the home level, with a 15.9 million gallon shortfall; 50 percent at the dealer level, with a 4 million gallon shortage, and 29.1 percent at the stockpile level, with an 11.2 million gallon shortfall, according to the governor's council.