Mainers will have a better idea by mid-July what the government thinks it can do about rising fuel costs, and the first priority will be to help the state’s poor get through this winter.

John Kerry, director of the governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said a report would be delivered to Gov. John Baldacci by July 15 based on the work of the diverse Pre-emergency Task Force on Escalating Home Heating and Diesel Fuel Prices.

Kerry said his group, made up of representatives from state agencies and the private sector, including the energy and banking industry, will have had only 30 days to work on the report, but the priorities are clear – making sure those with limited incomes have housing, heating, transportation and food.

“I think the state has a moral obligation to address the needs of the poor,” Kerry said, and that means identifying programs that will work and ways to fund them, either through public money or private donations, and most likely a combination of both.

There has been discussion about calling the Legislature back into session to deal with the energy crisis, but no plans have been made yet.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders and the governor’s office say it is too early to tell if a special session will be needed. Some speculate that if lawmakers were called back in it would be to deal with some type of emergency bond package.

“We haven’t made the decision,” said the governor’s spokesman, David Farmer, about calling legislators back.

“There are no definite plans for a special session,” he said, adding, “Nothing’s off the table.”

Kerry’s task force of about 40 people will be submitting proposals by the end of this week for submission in the report to the governor. Some of the ideas they are looking at include:

• Funding for weatherization programs and better energy efficiency

• Increasing fuel aid since prices have doubled

• Ways to increase public transportation, including van pools

• Looking at four-day work weeks with 10-hour days and more telecommuting

• Transporting goods and services by rail rather than trucks over the highway

Kerry said the state’s long-term goal is to reduce its reliance on petroleum products, from 90 percent to 20 percent. The way to do that will be by developing alternative fuels and more efficient ways to heat home and businesses and move people and goods around.

Kerry is a former state senator from Saco, who served as the state’s energy director in the 1980s. Before returning to state employment, he served as the CEO of Catholic Charities in Maine.


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