Saying he was inspired by a Tulsa energy producer who has volunteered to help with high home heating costs, State Senator Kevin Easley wants the state to team up with the energy industry to help Oklahomans who are struggling to pay skyrocketing utility bills.
"I wish I could claim credit for this idea, but it came from the industry itself. A small producer in Tulsa is offering to help Oklahomans pay their utility bills and I think the state should do everything it can to encourage other industry members to join in the effort," said Senator Easley.
The lawmaker wants to establish a special fund that would accept home heating assistance donations from energy producers. Under Easley's plan, each dollar contributed by the industry would be matched by the state. The proceeds would ultimately be distributed to needy consumers through the existing Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP.
The legislator said his initiative was inspired by the actions of Don Saunders with Shamrock Oil and Gas of Tulsa. In a recent article in the Tulsa World, Saunders said with so much money being made in his business, no one should go without heat. Accordingly, he is trying to organize an effort that would allow the energy industry to contribute money to home heating assistance.
Senator Easley said he would like to help Saunders make his idea a reality.
"I think Mr. Saunders makes a lot of sense. He's a small producer, but he's willing to devote a share of his profits to helping people. If we can get other producers, especially the larger ones, to lend a helping hand, we can lessen the sting of high gas bills for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans," said Senator Easley.
The legislator wants to pass enabling legislation quickly so additional relief can be delivered to consumers as soon as possible. Although legislative action may take several weeks, Senator Easley is encouraging natural gas producers to begin pledging donations immediately. He said he hopes the industry will ultimately agree to contribute at least $10 million to home heating aid.
"By sharing just a little bit of their good fortune with the average Oklahoman, natural gas producers could do a great service to our state and its people. The energy industry has always been a good corporate citizen in Oklahoma and I'm confident that it will enthusiastically support this proposal," Senator Easley said.
In addition to the latest initiative, Senator Easley is pushing to use $9.5 million in surplus federal welfare funds for home heating assistance. Those funds are controlled by the Department of Human Services.