Throughout much of the United States, home heating in winter is as much a necessity as food, clothing and a roof over one’s head. With oil and natural gas prices rising steadily in recent years, thousands of families have faced cruel choices as the temperature drops — whether to heat their homes or buy food, medicine or gas to get to work.

This year the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on oil and gas supplies is making the crisis much worse. But the storms are far from the whole story.

For over a quarter century, deregulation and the lifting of federal price controls have paved the way for wholesale profit gouging by giant energy corporations. The Bush administration, with long roots in the energy industry, is now helping its corporate allies use the post-storm situation for an unprecedented profit feeding frenzy.

While the impact will be worst in the Northeast and northern Midwest, heating costs will rise sharply even in warmer regions like California, where natural gas is used for space heating in most homes.

That the Bush administration sees energy supplies as a national security issue is clear from its invasion and occupation of Iraq and from the geopolitical map of its ambitions around the world. But as true U.S. national security is rooted in the well being of all its people, this year’s heating crisis is a real people’s national security emergency.

Long-term solutions include nationalization of all energy supplies under public control and emphasis on developing renewable energy sources.

But urgent steps are needed right now, including fully funding an expanded Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), together with local and state relief measures.

No one should be cut off, or charged deposit fees and connection fees for essential utilities. No one should be denied energy aid because of immigration status. School districts, local and state governments should get emergency federal energy aid. Energy prices should be rolled back to pre-Katrina levels.

In most places local coalitions are working on this issue. Now is a good time to join the work, before the sharpest winds begin to blow.