The reasons are complicated, but they include rising demand for natural gas as more and more electric utilities around the nation shift over from coal generation to meet federal clean air rules. In addition, downturns in the oil and gas industry during the 1990s resulted in only limited exploration for new reserves.
Sadly, the administration that held power in Washington from 1993 until just recently was not as well informed as we might have hoped about energy matters. They imposed some less than realistic environmental rules that contributed to the problem by increasing demand for gas, while they blocked exploration in many areas that would have increased supplies. We are now reaping the results of those flawed policies.
We also experienced the coldest November and December on record, boosting gas consumption just as prices skyrocketed.
Those are long term causes. We have to deal with the short term results, and one way to do that is to help older Oklahomans and those on limited incomes pay these high heating bills.
First, there will be several bills presented to the Legislature in early February which would appropriate funds to help the poor and elderly pay heating bills. I expect rapid action in this area and will work with legislative leaders to bring relief to those hit hardest by high energy costs.
Second, the Department of Human Services is working with federal officials to shift funds into programs that can help pay winter heating bills for the poor.
Third, many private charities are very aware of this problem and offer bill assistance to qualifying families. The utility companies are also willing to work with customers when bills are extremely high.
Thankfully, spring is coming soon!