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Oklahoma legislature moves to exempt natural gas industry from price gouging law

Three gas meters against a white brick wall.
Martin Wilson
/
KOSU

The existing Emergency Price Stabilization Act prohibits anyone from increasing prices more than 10% within 30 days after a declared emergency in Oklahoma. Legislation to exempt the natural gas industry from that law is headed to the Governor’s desk.

Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, authored House Bill 2561, which exempts the natural gas industry from the rule. He said Oklahoma natural gas utilities can’t control the market and shouldn’t have to foot the bill after emergencies.

“This is not the guy down the block increasing his gas, but an actual commodity market increase just like we've seen throughout the country,” McBride said when he presented the bill to the House in March. “Natural gas is expensive in Oklahoma. It's expensive all over the United States.”

But Democrats say this leaves Oklahoman utility customers no recourse against natural gas price surges, like those after Winter Storm Uri in 2021, which will ultimately cost Oklahomans nearly $4.5 billion.

At the time, then-Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said he believed the natural gas market might have violated state price gouging laws.

Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, and other Democrats expressed concerns that the new amendment could prevent future state investigations into potential natural gas price gouging.

“We should allow an attorney general the opportunity to go look the next time around, instead of writing into statute, ‘You will turn a blind eye,’” Fugate said.

The Emergency Price Stabilization Act already includes exemptions for the petroleum industry. Sen. John Montgomery, R-Lawton, who co-authored the bill, said that’s included natural gas all along.

“We’re just making sure that everybody is on the same page with what the definitions are,” Montgomery said during Senate discussions last week.

The bill cleared both chambers and is now awaiting the governor’s approval.

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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