Commissioner Anthony makes blistering attack over failure to investigate natural gas costs

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Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony repeated his call for independent experts to review the 2021 Winter Storm Uri fuel costs claimed by PSO and ONG, and at the same time told his fellow Commissioners they were wrong in claiming the agency lacked such investigative powers. He also suggested $3 billion in fuel costs were “hidden”‘ in the agenda.

In not one  but two filings on Monday regarding the Tuesday meeting where final orders for Fuel Adjustment Cost requests by the two giant utilities are to be considered by commissioners, Anthony declared the Commission not only has the power and authority to investigate the “highest-in-the-history-of-the-nation natural gas prices Oklahomans paid during the February 2021 Winter storm, it also has a legal obligation to do.”

In the second filing made late Monday afternoon, he suggested  that the agenda hid the fact the proposed final orders involved some $3 billion in costs to consumers. A hidden agenda item was involved in a recent court ruling against the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Anthony said that to declare the 2021 fuel costs “prudent” would be improper, irresponsible, negligent and a slap in the face to the hardworking ratepayers of Oklahoma who will ultimately pay for them. He also questioned how historically high fuel costs during the winter storm that were potentially the result of unlawful conduct possibly be declared “fair, just, reasonable” before the true origins of the costs are thoroughly investigated and determined.

“The impotence of my fellow commissioners is entirely psychosomatic; they have either been misinformed about the authority and jurisdiction of the Corporation Commission, or they simply do not want to investigate possible wrongdoing by some of this state’s leading corporate citizens and so deceive themselves into paralysis,” declared Anthony.

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In his filing, Anthony said Commission Chairman Todd Hiett offered no evidence that the Commission had referred the question of investigations into the actual gas market to the Attorney General.

“Sadly,” continued Anthony, “it seems newly-elected Commissioner Kim David has already drunk the Kool-Aid too,” taking note of her communication with the Attorney General in which she said the Commission lacks the legal authority to conduct such an investigation.

Anthony’s filing cited several parts of state law which give the Commission to carry out investigations into utilities.

“Thus, I believe it is self-evident t hat the Commission’s additional implied powers include the “proper and necessary” powers to investigate possible market manipulation and other corrupt influences or determinates of excessive or fraudulent natural gas fuel prices…..”

He called for the Commission to start by thoroughly examining the books and papers of both of Oklahoma’s public utilities. While Commissioners Hiett and David have previously stated that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can investigate such price and market manipulation, Anthony said they are wrong.

He pointed to an Oct. 20, 2022 Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling which held the FERC has jurisdiction only over transactions in “interstate natural gas” and no “intrastate” transactions.

Not holding back his criticism of Commissioners Hiett and David, Commissioner Anthony expressed hope his citations of the legal “reality” of their power might help them recognize “the distortions in their earlier thinking” and investigate the natural gas prices and market manipulation in the state.

Anthony’s  initial filing also offered his hope for a “new posture of openness and transparency” in which he and his fellow commissioners would agree to hire qualified independent experts to “find the true sources of the extreme 2021 fuel costs.”

The Commission’s Public Utilities Division is recommending approval of the hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs for ONG and PSO. It found them to be prudent.

PSO’s Mary E. Williamson, Director of Regulatory Services for the company testified the fuel costs could have been included in the company’s rate hike request but it “would have created a burden that could have been too excessive for many customers as it would have required costs to be recovered over the remainder of 2021.”

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Still, the impact on consumers prompted some customers of the two utilities to offer complaints.

One representative of Restore Community said she works with many seniors who are crippled under the weight of  these fuel costs.

“We have worked with many & spent hundreds of thousands in assisting seniors so utilities are not cut off. It must end.”

A 70-year single female wrote that because of the rate hikes, she barely turns on her heater at home and wears her coat in the house “because it’s too expensive to turn on my heater! I cannot pay my bill.”

Another customer of ONG complained that the Attorney General should have filed charges against the companies that charged an unheard of level of prices.
“4.5 BILLION DOLLARS!!! Two of you three Commissioners voted to allow ONG to pass this price gouging on to the customers. SHAME ON YOU! THIS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO STAND!”