Historically high natural gas prices

After a hurried two months of stops and starts, and last-minute changes delivered less than two hours before the meeting Thursday, Corporation Commissioners Todd Hiett and Kim David approved orders declaring more than $6 billion of OG&E, ONG and PSO’s fuel procurement costs and expenses for 2021 to be “fair, just, reasonable and prudent” – costs and expenses that include the historically high natural gas prices paid during the February 2021 Winter Storm. Commissioner Bob Anthony disagreed.

In his 180-page dissent, Anthony, who voted against all three orders, details how the orders were approved without conducting a lawful prudence review of all the utilities’ 2021 fuel costs and expenses as the constitution, state statutes and commission rules require. In his media statement, Anthony didn’t pull punches. Anthony told Tulsa Today, “This six billion dollar question was the biggest consideration ever in my 34 years on the Commission.”

“The stench of these rotten deals is so pervasive, people on the outside are beginning to pinch their noses and look toward the Jim Thorpe Building with wrinkled brows wondering what the hell is going on at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Not only are these public injustices rotting from a putrid core of greed, public corruption and regulatory capture, but so are the various layers of whitewash that have been repeatedly and sloppily applied by their proponents and apologists over the last two years.

Anthony said, “Giving these utilities an unqualified clean bill of health for all their calendar year 2021 fuel procurement processes and costs is improper, irresponsible, negligent, an abuse of discretion, and a slap in the face to the hardworking ratepayers of Oklahoma who will ultimately pay for them.”

Today’s orders are the worst abuse of public utility ratepayers in decades.  Involving OG&E’s $2.1 billion, PSO’s $1.8 billion and ONG’s $2.6 billion, this $6+ billion sellout is probably the most expensive utterance ever in my 34 years at this Commission

In his dissent, Anthony calls the orders approved today “shameful public policy and legal malpractice” and says they “make a mockery of fairness and the judicial process.”  “The Commission is talking out of both sides of its mouth and contradicting itself repeatedly in these orders,” Anthony points out.  “With their approval, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has officially become a kangaroo court.” 

Anthony accuses his fellow Commissioners of hurrying to “fast-track” the 2021 prudence review cases and their “final orders approving everything that happened in 2021” after the multi-billion-dollar lawsuits in Kansas and Texas came to light in February accusing companies that also did business in Oklahoma of natural gas market manipulation.  “Unnecessarily hurrying these ‘prudence review’ cases through in the face of mounting evidence of wrongdoing makes no lawfully or economically justifiable sense,” Anthony writes. “But if you are engaging in a multi-billion-dollar cover-up, it makes perfect sense!”

Asking “How can historically high fuel costs that were potentially the result of unlawful conduct – including price-gouging, fraud and market manipulation – possibly be declared ‘fair, just, reasonable’ or ‘prudent’ before the true origins of those costs are thoroughly investigated and determined?” Anthony concludes that “Apparently Commissioners Hiett and David’s earlier concern was all for show.”  On February 28, Commissioners Hiett and David had voted to hire an “independent expert” to “review” the 2021 fuel procurement processes and costs for these exact cases, but it appears now Commissioner David believes that is unnecessary.  It is not clear what new evidence emerged to change her mind.

Anthony also repeats his criticism of “the ongoing obstruction of my attempts to perform my constitutional duties and actually investigate these 2021 fuel costs and the circumstances surrounding them,” pointing out that he has received thousands of pages of information from other entities of state government while his own agency has been largely unresponsive.  He says last week, after seven months, he finally received 250 “cherry-picked” emails of the more than 40,000 he requested from the OCC. “At this rate, it will literally be more than 100 years before OCC fulfills this one request!” Anthony points out.

The truth is that there has never been a proper or thorough “prudence review” of these 2021 fuel procurement processes and costs in full compliance with relevant State Statutes and OCC Rules, by the OCC PUD or anyone else.  The reason is simple: there are too many special interests – and two very obliging Corporation Commissioners – who don’t want the public to know or understand the crooked conspiracies at work and just how reprehensible the behavior of certain public officials and some of our state’s leading corporate citizens has really been.

It appears that not a single dollar of these utilities’ billions in 2021 fuel costs and expenses was disallowed for imprudence – not $1!  That alone probably says all that needs to be said about the thoroughness and legal validity of these “comprehensive” calendar-year-2021 prudence reviews.

Anthony concludes:

Make no mistake, this is damage control.  Today’s orders are yet another layer of whitewash – another attempt to cover up, not only the initial mistakes and wrongdoing during the storm, but now the subsequent and ongoing wrongdoing committed in the last year+ in an attempt to conceal what came before.  But the truth will not stay buried, and the public deserves to know what happened.

Oklahomans deserve honesty and integrity from their public officials and competence and transparency in the regulatory processes they oversee.  They have been shortchanged. 

To read Commissioner Anthony’s full dissenting opinion click here.

Why are statewide media not up-in-arms running continuous stories on this taxpayer pillage? The answer is… advertising makes the media narratives go round.

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