Regulator, Senator Smile on Southwest-Oneok
Southwest Gas of Las Vegas and Oneok Inc. of Tulsa, OK received
the blessing of Nevada's Consumer Advocate and a Nevada state
legislator for their proposed merger.
Fred Schmidt, the State Consumer Advocate in the Nevada Attorney
General's Office, said his office performed a preliminary
evaluation of a competing offer for Southwest Gas by Southern
Union, and concluded that, "we did not think that they had the
financial capability to pull off the offer that they put forward
without substantially jeopardizing the current rate levels that
customers pay in Nevada."
Comments favoring the merger came during one of two consumer
sessions conducted by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada May
26 and 27. The sessions are part of the Commission approval process
of the Southwest Gas-Oneok combination. Evidentiary hearings on the
case are scheduled to start June 21.
State Senator Randolph Townsend (R-Washoe), chair of the State
Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, which oversees all utility
matters and the Public Utilities Commission, also addressed the
hearing. "This merger will provide significant benefits to
consumers as well as shareholders."
Southern Union gained permission early last month to join an
existing lawsuit against Southwest Gas in a last-ditch attempt to
overtake Oneok as the winner in the race to merge with Southwest.
The lawsuit accuses Southwest Gas' board of directors of refusing
to negotiate with Southern Union in good faith. None of the parties
involved would comment further on the situation as of press time.
The original lawsuit was filed by Southwest shareholders in San
Diego County's Superior Court. Southern Union said the original
lawsuit accuses the Southwest board of seeking only to protect
itself during the past merger negotiations.
Southern Union is asking the court for permission to directly
solicit Southwest's shareholders to oppose the Southwest-Oneok
agreement and to support Southern Union's efforts to merge.
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