Media Advisory – Kansas Attorney General validates suspicions on NatGas market manipulations

Publisher’s Note: The full deliberations filing at the Corporation Commission can be viewed online here: https://public.occ.ok.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=13479854

Oklahoma City — Citing a $50 million lawsuit filed by the Kansas Attorney General against an energy company for manipulation of natural gas markets during the February 2021 winter storm, on Thursday, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony filed a deliberations statement in the 2021 fuel cost review cases for ONG, OG&E and PSO saying his repeatedly-dismissed suspicions about the illegitimacy of Oklahoma’s natural gas prices have now been validated.

He called on his fellow Oklahoma Commissioners to stop stonewalling and obstructing his investigation and do their constitutional duty on behalf of ratepayers to identify, investigate and “correct abuses.”

Without actually saying “I told you so,” Anthony cited more than a half-dozen instances since September 2022 when he explicitly called for the OCC to investigate “market manipulation,” questioned what the agency was or was not doing to investigate it, or asked for pertinent documents, records and information so that he could investigate it.

Anthony pointed out that the Kansas lawsuit details how the results of investigations by the Kansas Corporation Commission – especially diligent fuel cost prudence reviews – were important to the Kansas A.G. bringing the lawsuit.

While the Kansas Corporation Commission is investigating and addressing natural gas market manipulation during Winter Storm Uri head-on, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission continues to insist on sticking its head in the sand,” Anthony wrote.

In no uncertain terms, Commissioner Anthony forcefully reiterated his opposition to the “absurdly” restricted hiring proposal adopted by Commissioners Hiett and David on Tuesday, authorizing an “independent consultant” but limiting the scope of his “review” to exclude consideration of the $4.5 billion in 2021 Winter Storm fuel costs or any new information outside the existing record.

Anthony called the approved proposal:

“…so restricted as to be absurd. I might also call it another layer of whitewash in this ongoing cover-up. The Commission is going to hire someone to investigate the prudency of the 2021 fuel costs, but first, it is going to blindfold him and tie his hands behind his back.”

In the Thursday (March 2) filing, Anthony repeated earlier arguments he made demonstrating the need for a legitimate independent investigation instead. He wrote:

I suggest this Commission reexamine all aspects of the hiring proposal approved by Commissioners Hiett and David on February 28, especially the absurd restrictions, and instead hire a qualified Independent Evaluator empowered with this agency’s full review authority. … History tells us the benefits can far outweigh the costs, and frankly, the Commissioners’ constitutional duties to “correct abuses” and “enforce just and reasonable rates and charges against” regulated public utilities require it. In my opinion, to do any less than our absolute best to find the true sources of these extreme costs and examine their prudence in the context of appropriate market rates and industry best practices would be a dereliction of our duty to the ratepayers of Oklahoma.

The public is tired of obstruction and cover-up. Many are even angry. Oklahoma ratepayers need and deserve an independent, outside investigator who is given the full power of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to investigate the full scope of all these multi-billion-dollar calendar-year 2021 fuel procurement processes and costs, as the law requires this agency to do.”

Anthony went on:

“Those like Commissioner Hiett with ‘full confidence’ in the Commission’s review processes to date, and thereby the legitimacy, reasonableness and prudency of the underlying fuel costs, should welcome new thorough, detailed prudence reviews of these 2021 fuel costs by a qualified, third-party Independent Evaluator with full review authority to corroborate their assuredness. Those like myself who are skeptical or outright doubtful will likewise look forward to the possibility that the Independent Evaluator validates our competence in identifying blatant fraud and market manipulation and provides an evidentiary basis for ordering ‘restitution or relief for customers (as Assistant A.G. Haines indicated that the law allows).

If Kansas can do it, so can we. The people of Oklahoma are already paying through the nose; they deserve to know the truth about these high bills, and maybe, just maybe, get some of it back.”

Anthony also renewed his months-old requests for records and information related to the multi-billion-dollar cases – the failures to comply with which he has previously called “obstruction,” “stonewalling,” and “an ongoing cover-up.”

This Commission should immediately provide to Commissioner Anthony’s office the appropriate documents, information and records of this agency related to 2021 regulated utility fuel costs I have been requesting for months … including an accurate detailing and breakdown of all of each regulated utilities’ calendar year 2021 fuel costs … naming specifically who got paid how much for what.

[Anthony] also repeated months-old requests for electronic communications between the utilities and OCC officials and staff. Coincidentally, on Tuesday night, KFOR/News Channel 4 reported on emails it had obtained between OCC staff and employees of ONG in March 2021 that appear to show collusion to manipulate the amount owed by average residential natural gas customers for gas used during the winter storm and present wildly inflated numbers to lawmakers to influence their vote on the Securitization legislation.

On Thursday (March 2), Commissioner Anthony pointed out that state law says delaying or obstructing a public officer attempting to do his duty is a crime.

The ongoing failure of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to respond to these legal and constitutionally authorized requests for essential information necessary for me to fulfill my constitutional duties and responsibilities as a Corporation Commissioner may not only be obstructionist whitewash; it may actually be a crime.”

Citing Oklahoma Statutes (21 O.S. § 540), Commissioner Anthony warned:

“Oklahoma law says delaying or obstructing a public officer like a Corporation Commissioner as he/she attempts to discharge any duty of his or her office is considered a ‘crime against public justice.’ I agree.”Read Commissioner Anthony’s full Deliberations Statement filed Thursday, March 2, here: https://public.occ.ok.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=13479854

Publisher’s NOTE: CapitolBeatOK.com is an independent, non-partisan and locally-managed news website based in Oklahoma City. This information is posted in the public interest. While submissions with other views about these issues are welcome, CapitolBeatOK.com reserves to make content decisions about news, information and opinion without regard to political considerations or pressure.