Continued from page 1

“When they price, they’re looking at market competition, looking at their margins, looking at what services they provide to the customer, how far away the customer is,” he said. “Adding two-tenths of a cent, they can’t do under the law.”

Mr. Ellis said other businesses work to improve their products without government mandates.

“If companies and the industry want to innovate, that’s great,” he said. “But we shouldn’t be in the business as the federal government of propping it up and creating this overall system.”

The National Oilheat Research Alliance has faced other problems. A 2010 Government Accountability Office audit found it was spending the majority of its money on marketing and was neglecting research.

The farm bill requires that a majority of funding go to research and development of more efficient oil heat technology and other environmentally friendly fuel initiatives.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate sponsored bills to try to renew the National Oilheat Research Alliance, but the legislation got bottled up in committee. The farm bill offered them a chance to short-circuit the usual legislative process and avoid the kind of scrutiny that accompanies a stand-alone bill.

Indeed, it was not raised at all during the debate on the House floor last week.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did not want the program to be slipped into the massive bill without more scrutiny. He said the GAO audit raised questions that needed answers.

“In the past, NORA has used the funds it has collected primarily to run public relations campaigns,” he wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to the committee’s chairman. “The committee should carefully examine the value of these efforts before subjecting the consumers of heating oil to additional costs.”

Ms. Katz said hiding a piece of legislation in the farm bill that could not pass on its own is not the right way to move legislation and could end up hurting the oil heat provision by tying the Energy Department initiative to future farm bills that could face political trouble.

“They couldn’t get this passed since 2010, so they reverted to sort of hiding it in the farm bill. There’s already enough junk in the farm bill that shouldn’t be in there. This just adds to that,” she said.