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Senate bill could cut jobs at Citgo

Last Modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 10:10 AM

By Frank DiCesare / American Press

A Senate bipartisan bill that seeks sanctions against Venezuela for human rights violations could mean significant job losses at Citgo’s Lake Charles refinery if the measure passes in its current form, company officials said.

Introduced in the Senate in March, the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 seeks sanctions against Venezuelans who abused the human rights of those who participated in antigovernment protests that began in Caracas in February. The bill was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

If enacted, the law would empower the president to block and prohibit all transactions of property between the U.S. and Venezuela. It would also authorize the president to deny or revoke all visas from Venezuela to the United States in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The bill prompted Citgo Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Rafael Gómez Abreu to send a three-page letter to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., on July 29, asking that the Senate fully consider the economic effects the bill’s passage could have on the Lake Charles refinery.

“It is important to be certain that families in Louisiana and consumers across the country do not have to pay the high price for any unintended consequences of legislation that has not been carefully considered from all angles,” Gómez Abreu wrote.

In a list of prepared responses emailed to the American Press on Tuesday, Gómez Abreu said sanctions against Venezuela “could potentially hinder the ability of Citgo to conduct business and provide jobs to Louisiana.” Citgo’s Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex is the sixth-largest refinery in the United States, employing 2,000 full-time workers and contractors.

“The proposed sanctions could have consequences that would force us to work in a short-heavy market, operate at reduced capacity rates and impact our ability to run the business,” Gómez Abreu said.

Citgo executives are concerned that sanctions against Venezuela could shut down the country’s crude oil exports to its Lake Charles refinery — which could mean the loss of up to 2,000 jobs. Gómez Abreu said 30 percent of the crude Citgo processes at its refineries originates in Venezuela.

When the Press asked Gómez Abreu if Citgo would support sanctions against Venezuela if jobs at its Lake Charles refinery remained secured, he declined to answer yes or no. Instead, he said that “any question related to sanctions is political in nature and not usually within the scope of corporate operations.”

“However,” he said, “my role with the company includes ensuring all due diligence is conducted in order to protect our assets, our operations and the interests of our customers, employees, business partners, and ultimately, a very important market we have served for the past quarter-century. This has included very critical times, such as the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, nearly 10 years ago. It is in that spirit that we wrote to Sen. Landrieu.”

Gómez Abreu’s letter prompted Landrieu to block the bill from passing with unanimous consent prior to the Senate’s August recess. Will Dempster, spokesman for Landrieu, said the senator is working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to draft additional language for the bill that would protect jobs at the Lake Charles refinery if sanctions against Venezuela are imposed.

Citgo is owned by PDV America Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., which is the country’s state-owned oil and natural gas company. PDV America Inc. purchased Citgo in January 1990.

In a statement to the American Press, Landrieu, who heads the Senate Energy Committee, said that while she supports the bill she is concerned that its current language would endanger jobs at the Lake Charles refinery.

“Once a simple sentence is added to the bill that protects these 2,000 workers who make it possible for everyone who owns a car in Louisiana to fill up their gas tanks each week, I will be happy to support the legislation,” she said.

Published reports have indicated that the Venezuelan protests have so far resulted in over 40 deaths, nearly 800 injuries and more than 3,000 arrests.

Dana Keel, Citgo’s government and public affairs manager, declined to comment for this story.

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