Amid a lingering propane shortage from low supplies and cold weather, Oklahoma officials announced several actions Friday to accelerate help for low-income customers and warned of prosecutions for price gouging.
In an executive order, Gov. Mary Fallin directed the Department of Human Services to give priority status to low-income families using propane who request help under the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program. She also asked the department to begin taking applications from propane customers to participate in the Energy Crisis Assistance Program. Applications were scheduled to start in March for that assistance program.
“I want to make sure we are making assistance available to Oklahomans who are struggling to keep warm because of the high propane prices,” Fallin said in a statement. “Many Oklahoma residents depend on the use of propane for survival during the winter months and the effects of the shortage are being felt throughout the state.”
Propane is commonly used for heating homes in rural areas not served by natural gas. There are about 400,000 propane consumers in Oklahoma.
High propane prices in the Midwest are the result of both increased demand for crop drying in November and higher demand for space heating during the current cold snap, the Energy Information Administration said in a recent report.
Fallin's executive order also activated the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, which guards against price fixing and price gouging during emergencies. Fallin's executive order, an extension of an earlier one, will remain in effect until March 2.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said his office will look into reports of artificial price increases or price fixing. He said those considering artificial price increases or price fixing can face criminal or civil action.
“It is important for consumers to know that while the price stabilization act may help consumers with artificial price increases in propane, it will not lower existing record high propane prices and only affects price increases caused by illegal activity,” Pruitt said in a statement.
Propane price fixing complaints
Oklahomans who suspect price gouging or price fixing should file a complaint with the attorney general's public protection unit at www.oag.ok.