John Maniscalco held the top job at the New York Oil Heating Association for more than 24 years
By Stephen Bennett
John Maniscalco was caught by surprise. It was at the Atlantic Region Energy Expo in Atlantic City, N.J., last May, during the keynote session, and Maniscalco was called onto the stage and given a plaque honoring him for more than twenty-four years of service as head of the New York Oil Heating Association.
He didn’t know it was going to happen. “They just announced my name and brought me up,” Maniscalco said. He remembered what was most important though. He told the audience, “My parting words are: Stay unified. Support your associations and you’re guaranteed continued success.”
Maniscalco elaborated on that point in a phone interview on Friday, August 28, his last day at work at NYOHA before retiring. He said the essence of the job is persuading competitors to work together, convincing them that coordinating their efforts is in their own best interests. “That’s what association life is all about,” he said. “You’ve got to get them all in the same room, you’ve got to get them all thinking the same way, and it’s all got to be positive and constructive.”
There are always going to be problems and challenges facing the industry, Maniscalco noted, “but if you handle them in a unified way you’re going to have a greater chance of success.”
The creation of the National Oilheat Research Alliance, for which 23 states rallied together, is the best example of a unified effort by the fuel oil industry during his tenure, Maniscalco said.
“That started out as a conversation, probably back in 1995,” Maniscalco recalled, and the effort came to fruition, being signed by President Clinton, in 2001. Under the check-off program, fuel oil companies contribute two-tenths of one cent per gallon to NORA. The funds are shared among the states, where they are used to support research and development, training and education.
“There’s no doubt” about its success, “from day one,” said Maniscalco, who served as treasurer upon NORA’s inception. A few years ago the authorization for the check-off program expired, and Congress did not re-authorize it immediately. The industry lobbied for renewal, which Congress finally voted for last year.
“We were elated,” Maniscalco said. NORA is essential, he said, because it ensures that all oil companies put up “their fair share of dollars” to support education and research. By implementing a funding mechanism in which all participate, Maniscalco said, the check-off program addresses the chronic challenge that trade associations face: companies that don’t join, “yet they benefit when the association does something.”
The members of NYOHA number approximately 150, of which about 60 are oil dealers and terminal operators. The others, associate members, include “anybody who wants to do business with an oil company or a terminal,” Maniscalco said, including insurance companies, attorneys, engineering firms, answering services, and manufacturers of boilers, burners and other equipment. NYOHA represents the five boroughs of New York City, operating from an office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
Maniscalco’s successor is Rocco Lacertosa (see accompanying article for more on Lacertosa). “I’ve known John since 1991,” said Lacertosa, who started in the heating oil business in 1966, and has served on the board of NYOHA. “He’s done so much for this industry,” Lacertosa said, including lobbying for legislation that mandated use of B2 heating oil in New York City. “He helped spearhead that,” Lacertosa said. “I think if it wasn’t for his initiative we might not have it today. I don’t think anyone has done more than he has to make things better here in New York City.” When an association member had a question, Lacertosa added, “if he didn’t have the answer he always got the answer for you. He was always there to help.”
Before he went to work for the association, Maniscalco owned and operated City Utilities in Queens, N.Y., for 20 years. The company delivered fuel oil and performed service, repairs and installations. “I still have my New York City oil burner license,” he said. “I don’t know for what reason. I just kept renewing it.”
After he sold City Utilities in October 1990, “I was working for the company I had sold it to,” Maniscalco said, and serving as president of NYOHA when the association board asked him to take the top job, which he did, in April 1991.
Lobbying, public relations and advertising are the main components of the job, Maniscalco said, noting that he was a registered lobbyist dealing with the New York City Council and mayor; assemblymen and state senators in Albany, N.Y., and with New York’s governor. “And then when federal legislation was thrown at the industry at large I had to speak to congressmen and U.S. senators either here or in D.C.”
The public relations component of the job consists of “the face that one puts on in relation to the consuming public,” Maniscalco said. “We have to always be out there and try to convince oil heat consumers–and at times natural gas consumers–that we’re clean and green and family-owned.
“When they have issues or problems with their [fuel oil] company a lot of times they’ll call the association office, look for guidance, look for help, register complaints, things like that,” he noted.
On the advertising front the goal is “making positive impressions about the product and about the oil companies” in comparison to the competition, “which in New York City is basically natural gas,” Maniscalco pointed out.
“Heating oil has always been perceived to be a dirty product,” but that has changed, he said. Under his tenure the association participated in a successful push for fuel oil with a sulfur level of 15 ppm in New York State. It is the lowest low-sulfur fuel of any state, he said.
In New York City, the association succeeded in establishing a requirement that each gallon of heating oil contain two percent biofuel. The bio portion is usually an agricultural blend of soybean oil. “So now we call it Bioheat,” Maniscalco said. He called it “the cleanest heating oil in the entire nation.”
A New York City councilman has proposed that the city go further, to B5, and Maniscalco said a hearing on the proposal was scheduled for September. The outlook for adoption is favorable, he said.
Economic trends are working in the fuel oil industry’s favor, he noted. “With the oil prices collapsing, so to speak, now we’re going to have some parity with the natural gas industry as far as economics go.” The natural gas industry “always had us on emissions as well,” Maniscalco said, “but now, with the introduction of ultra-low and the biodiesel, we’re almost even with them on emissions. Between being as clean and green as natural gas and the pricing coming together I think the oil industry is being re-invented.”
Maniscalco said that in retirement, “I am going to get to know my bride of 43 years again.” He added. “She’s retiring in October.” Domestic and international travel are on the agenda. Two of the Maniscalcos’ four grown offspring reside in New York and two are “out of state,” he said, “and we have a grandson. So we’re going to doing a lot of traveling in-country as well as going to Europe.”
And he plans to give back to his community, possibly through The Rotary Club, with which he was active before.