Iowa’s Attorney General released a report this week blaming our huge winter heating bills on the futures market, not supply and demand. The report found natural gas prices are up 28-percent this winter, but usage is actually down five-percent. Tom Miller is appealing to Congress to make all natural gas trading public and Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin says he’ll help Miller, if he can.
Harkin says “I think he does have a point. I think we should look into it and I think we should have some hearings on it.” Harkin applauded Wednesday’s Senate vote that added one-billion tax dollars to the budget of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, to help poor people pay their power bills. Harkin had requested a LIHEAP budget boost of nearly three-billion dollars.
Harkin acknowledges there is a problem in how natural gas is traded. Harkin says the report released by Miller and three other attorneys general found that “natural gas has supply-and-demand characteristics that make it vulnerable to abuse and volatility yet the markets in which the wholesale natural gas prices are set are less regulated than many other commodity markets.”
Harkin says there’s long been suspicion big oil companies are intentionally restricting the flow of natural gas, particularly from Alaska, to keep prices high. While Harkin says the theories are still speculation, he says he’s tried for years to get a natural gas pipeline built from Alaska to the lower 48 states. He says he hears stories that “Exxon-Mobil especially has been in the forefront of keeping that pipeline from being built.”
Harkin, a Democrat, blames members of the opposition party for running interference for the petroleum conglomerates. Harkin says “If we had some jurisdiction here in Congress, in the Senate, we could have hearings, we could bring people in and we could get to the bottom of these things but the Republican majority in Congress won’t have these kinds of hearings, they won’t bring them in, they won’t make the record.”