AGA: Senators Alarmed by High Gas Prices Should Look to Their Own Backyard
Representing utilities that serve as many as 64 million natural gas customers in the United States, the American Gas Association (AGA) said it fully supports "continued and vigorous" oversight of gas markets by federal regulators. But it believes that senators, who have pressed for the investigations of the gas market, should do their part by passing the omnibus energy bill (HR 6) in the second session of the 108th Congress.
"It is fair for constituents of those [senators] who have called for congressional investigations to ask whether their elected officials have voted in favor of increasing energy supplies through HR 6 or stonewalled it -- thus maintaining the volatile status quo that hits low-income families and senior citizens the hardest," said AGA President David Parker Monday.
Several senators -- including Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Charles Schumer -- have publicly called for either federal investigations or congressional hearings into the escalation of gas prices. In a briefing on Capitol Hill last week, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission reported that its inquiry has not uncovered evidence of gas market manipulation so far.
If they are concerned about their constituents who have been hit with the "double-whammy" of frigid weather and rising home-heating costs, Senate lawmakers should vote to pass comprehensive energy legislation that would help boost natural gas supplies, the AGA noted.
"The 100 members of the U.S. Senate hold in their hands the health, welfare and pocketbooks of the 52 million households heated with natural gas," said Parker. "It's time for the Senate to quit talking and finish action on energy policy legislation that would lay the groundwork for increasing supplies of natural gas -- which is the best way to make natural gas prices more reasonable."
The energy bill conference report cleared the House in November, but it stalled in the Senate when Republicans fell shy of the votes needed to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. The prognosis for the bill passing the Senate this year is uncertain at this point.
Parker noted the energy measure would help gas customers in four ways: (1) augment existing gas supplies, both through incentives for greater production and speeding up permits for production on non-park federal lands; (2) boost expansion of local gas pipelines; (3) protect low-income customers by expanding energy assistance funding; and (4) encourage more efficient use of natural gas and other clean energy resources.
"Despite their best efforts to cushion consumers from a roller-coaster of natural gas price volatility, such as storing natural gas underground and using financial tools such as hedging, individual utilities look to federal officials to take the necessary steps to increase natural gas supplies and thus bring down prices," he said.
Parker reported that AGA utilities in the East and Pacific Northwest were able to meet the record demand of residential customers during the bone-chilling termperatures of the past few weeks. Setting records for their gas deliveries were KeySpan Energy (serving Long Island, NY, as well as Boston), Northwest Natural (Portland, OR), Puget Sound Energy (Bellevue, WA), South Jersey Gas (southern New Jersey), and Washington Gas (metropolitan Washington, DC), he said.