October 24, 2005
Jefferson City, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon today filed to intervene in a Public Service Commission investigation of natural gas distribution companies to determine what steps have been taken to mitigate sharp price increases for natural gas predicted for this winter. Nixon filed on behalf of state agencies, departments and institutions to protect the state's interest in assuring reliable natural gas service at reasonable and lawful rates.
"Like most Missourians, I am deeply concerned about the projected increases in heating bills this winter," Nixon said. "Because the state and its agencies are major consumers of utility services, including natural gas, the state has a significant interest in this investigation. What's good for the state's budget will be good for the consumers' budget."
The U.S. Department of Energy has projected that natural gas costs could be as much as 60 percent higher this winter compared to last winter; 57 percent of Missouri homes heat with natural gas.
Missouri rules and regulations require investor-owned natural gas companies to take measures to mitigate upward price volatility for consumers. If the Attorney General's Office is allowed to intervene in the PSC case, Nixon will be able to conduct a thorough investigation into the companies' compliance with those rules and regulations.
Nixon has also joined with the Attorneys General of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin in sending letters to natural gas distribution companies in their states. They are asking for projections for natural gas prices and demand for the 2005-2006 heating season, and data for the past three heating seasons.
The Attorneys General also are seeking information about all measures investor-owned local distribution companies are taking to mitigate the high natural gas prices, including budget payment plans, bill amnesty or subsidies as well as information on internal efforts at energy efficiency, conservation and hedging buying practices. Those practices would allow the companies to lock in prices when rates are lower. The Attorneys General will use the information to help determine best-practice approaches to protecting consumers through litigation, state regulatory changes, education, and protection programs for low-income and other at-risk groups.
Last week, Nixon took action to provide more heating assistance for Missouri's low-income families. He sent a letter to Congress to requesting additional funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the next available emergency supplemental appropriations bill. The funding will help the neediest families allay financial crises and keep warm this winter.
Nixon's letter on LIHEAP follows a letter sent last month by most of the nation's governors, both Democrat and Republican. Nixon expressed concern that Missouri had not signed onto that letter. "The absence of Missouri from their letter should not suggest that Missourians do not need assistance," Nixon wrote in his letter.