Update on Oklahoma Natural Gas and ONEOK

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We had a nice visit in April with Dr. Doug Newsom, a journalism professor at TCU in Ft. Worth, who is a member of the board of directors of ONEOK. She is the only one from ONG or ONEOK that has responded to our letters. We've had no further word from the Corporation Commissioners, Denise Bode and Bob Anthony did not respond to our letter. The Commission staff won't discuss the justice of their rules or how the utilities implement them. Now there's news of three kids dead, the chain of events leading to this tragedy begins with OG&E shutting off the electricity. But the Corporation Commission is convinced of the justice of its rules. There's a theological term for this: "invincible ignorance."

In our meeting with Dr. Newsom, we learned that ONEOK gives $50,000 a year to help poor people pay their gas bills, this is less than 1/10th of 1% of their first quarter net income of $60 million. But they are considering the justice of their "room-mate rule" that we have been talking about. Let's all continue to pray for them, and start praying for the OG&E directors, officers, and stockholders. We don't think that these officers of these wealthy corporations understand how the last decade has impacted the poor. In just three years, 1995-97, the poorest households of this nation lost 25% of their net worth. We're now basically thinking that natural gas service may be an amenity that for the forseeable future may not be affordable for the very poor. It's probably time to start thinking about how to help them break free of the natural gas monopoly. Wood, kerosene, low-cost solar (we found some plans for cheap solar heaters that fit into standard windows), and propane are all possibilities.

The Oklahoma City Water Dept. doesn't win any social justice awards either. We hear sad stories about them too. We know one person who has had no water service for a year (and she's 81 years old!) The Water Dept., like ONG and OG&E, insist that they want to work with people, at least, that's what they say when you write them a letter criticizing their policies. It's our impression that there's a disconnect between what upper management may be saying (in both ONG and the Water Dept.) and what happens with the customer service reps on the phone lines. With water service, the City has an extra club: if a family loses its water service, the kids may be taken away from the family by the state. But at least the head of the Water Department answered our email about a particular situation we had come across and offered to look into the situation. We're still waiting for a response from the president of ONG to our letter of February 2000.

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