Editor's note: This is an extended version of a story published in the Mar. 10, 2008, issue of BusinessWeek magazine.
Oil prices jerked upward on Feb. 27, hitting a record $102 a barrel before falling back. Observers called it a play against a weakening dollar, but whatever the reason, it is cold comfort to millions of lower-income Americans who face increasing prices at the pump and the prospect of higher home heating bills. No one knows that better than former Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy, who runs the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp., which provides discount heating oil to Americans in need in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The charitable work of Kennedy—eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, godson of John F. Kennedy, and nephew of Senator Edward Kennedy—is not without controversy, primarily because the discounted oil is provided to Citizens Energy by the Venezuelan government of fiery U.S. critic Hugo Chávez.