CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Two years ago, New Hampshire refused to accept heating oil from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the pro-Castro U.S. critic who once called President Bush "the devil." But with fuel prices rising, well, free oil is free oil.
With the state's blessing, New Hampshire residents will be receiving some of the fuel this winter.
New Hampshire becomes the last state in the Northeast to embrace the offer.
"A lot of people have said, `We need help and we value any help we can get,'" said Amy Ignatius, director of New Hampshire's office of energy and planning.
The oil giveaway will be managed by Citizens Energy, a nonprofit organization set up by former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy to help the poor stay warm. But the state energy office plans to help Citizens publicize the aid and sign up fuel-oil dealers.
It is just the latest example of how rising oil prices have brought about an attitude adjustment in the U.S. Over the past few weeks, pressure has been growing in Washington and around the country to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling.
Back in 2006, when Chavez began offering free oil to Americans from Venezuela's government-controlled Citgo, New Hampshire's energy office contacted the Venezuelan Embassy about working out a deal.
But the idea galled some New Hampshire Republicans, including Sen. John Sununu, who called the it a "disgrace" and an attempt at grandstanding by Chavez, and Democratic Gov. John Lynch squelched the effort.
This year, though, "the state's role is to make sure people are aware of the program," Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said.
A lot has changed over the past two years. Back then, heating oil sold for about $2.50 per gallon in the Northeast. Last month, the average price was $4.61, with predictions of $5 per gallon oil by winter.
"The average tank is 250 to 275 gallons," Citizens spokeswoman Ashley Durmer said. "Filling it once is over $1,500. That is unfathomable that anyone can pay that price. If you have to fill the tank four times, it's going to be a devastating winter for a lot of people."
On Thursday, Sununu again criticized Chavez but said he has no problem with people or businesses accepting help from an independent nonprofit such as Citizens.
N.H. will accept free oil from Chavez after all