Americans look with dread toward this winter’s heating bills

Skyrocketing energy costs aren’t just kicking Americans in the gas tank — they’re punching Americans right in the bills. The home-heating bills, that is. Folks are expected to spend $600 billion this year on oil purchases (including home heating oil), about $210 billion more than two years ago, and $167 billion on natural gas, up from $120 billion in 2004. Though the overall impact on the economy is in dispute, some economists call it a “consumption tax” that will eventually have a ripple effect, forcing consumers to cut back in other areas. Experts recommend undertaking conservation measures like fixing leaks and putting weather stripping around doors. “You can turn the heat down a little and wear an extra sweater,” said Gary Fay, treasurer of his local church in Proctor, Vt., which is looking at a $10,000 shortfall in its budget this year thanks to the soaring cost of heating oil, “but in the end you really need to heat yourself.” Word.