It is frustrating to find state regulators who oversee public utilities stumped when pressed for answers about staggering spikes in energy costs during a major winter storm this past February.

Because the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has a duty to "ensure reliable utility service at fair, just and responsible rates," it's inability — or failure — to answer questions from consumers borders on maddening. Its mission, after all, is to balance "the rights and needs of the people with those of regulated entities through development and enforcement of regulations in an open, transparent, ethical, and just manner."

 Commissioners seemed unable — or unwilling — to respond to ratepayers' concerns this week during a hearing convened for the purpose of determining how that cost will be allocated among ratepayers and paid. They also had no answers for consumers about the identify of those who profited from price spikes expected to cost Oklahoma consumers more than $4.5 billion. 

That debt is expected to be securitized and repaid by consumers during an extended period of time. The idea is to relieve consumers of the immediate burden of higher energy costs, but advocates for ratepayers believe the utilities and shareholders should bear at least a portion of the additional costs, which were fueled by something many consumers might consider price gouging.

Sure, price gouging is a legal term of art and has a specific meaning that may not comport to this particular circumstance. But it appears there may be some who were unjustly enriched as a result of a declared disaster. 

Whether that's because commissioners failed to develop and enforce regulations necessary to ensure "reliable utility service at fair rates," hold "the industries it regulates accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma" remains unknown. Of course, the astronomical increase in home heating costs may have been caused by market manipulators taking advantage of a bad situation. 

Consumers deserve answers to those questions and others regardless of what the contributing factors might be. Those answers should come from corporation commissioners whose stated vision is be a "trusted, effective agency that works collaboratively to accomplish its Mission in a way that protects people and the environment, conserves natural resources, improves quality of life, promotes continued economic development, and holds both itself and the industries it regulates accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma."

Corporation commissioners set for themselves some lofty goals. Voters must hold them to account. 

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