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AM NewsBrief: July 19, 2023

This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

Attorney General Opens Natural Gas Lawsuit

Attorney General Gentner Drumond launched Tuesday what he describes as the most significant lawsuit in state history.

Drummond is taking legal action against natural gas sellers that tacked billions of dollars onto Oklahoma gas bills due to Winter Storm Uri in 2021.

Natural gas marketers buy gas and sell it to utility companies. Drummond says those middlemen applied a “short squeeze” just before Uri hit, artificially restricting the natural gas supply when Oklahomans needed it to heat their homes during sub-zero temperatures.

"After careful and diligent review of the conduct during winter storm Uri, it is clear to me that several companies reaped billions of dollars at the expense of Oklahoma families and businesses, and that's billions with a B."

Drummond says he didn’t find any wrongdoing at Oklahoma’s natural gas utilities or at the state Corporation Commission, which approved rate hikes.

Drummond’s office is seeking proposals from outside law firms that want to work on the case. If the state is able to recover money, he said it will likely make its way back to ratepayers indirectly via Oklahoma Corporation Commission bonds for utility companies.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Resigns

The CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has announced his resignation.

Kevin Corbett, who has served in the role since August of 2019, will be stepping down July 31st, or when a new successor is chosen. The job of reappointment falls to Governor Kevin Stitt, as the position of CEO is a gubernatorial selection.

Back in April, the Senate Rules Committee shot down Stitt’s renomination of Corbett to serve as the secretary of health and mental health after Stitt vetoed 20 Senate bills and promised to veto more until the Senate could come to an agreement with his office and the House over private school tax credits.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority administers Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, known as Soonercare, which currently covers over one-third of Oklahomans.

Bartlesville Lifts Drought Restrictions

Northeastern Oklahoma is starting to see some benefits from recent rains, especially Bartlesville, whose water supply is bouncing back from the drought.

Bartlesville draws its water from three lakes -Hudson, Hulah and Copan. The latter is still at low capacity, but Hulah Lake rose 4 feet over the weekend, and Hudson is more than a foot over its normal levels.

That’s largely due to recent rains in northeastern Oklahoma. It’s a different story than in April, when the city’s overall water supply dipped to 57%. That triggered outdoor watering restrictions and a rate increase for households with heavy water use.

When summer arrived, Bartlesville’s pools stayed closed. Now, with the water supply over 70%, the city is lifting those outdoor watering restrictions and the utility rate increases.

Bartlesville says it won’t open its pools due to late-season staffing challenges. But splash pads started opening Monday.

Despite the improvements, the city says it still “strongly encourages” conservation.

Top Oklahoma Colleges Announced

U.S. News and World Report is touting its’ 2022-2023 ranking of the top universities in Oklahoma.

OU took the top spot for Oklahoma institutions, with the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University rounding out the top three. The list also included Oklahoma City University in fourth place and Rogers State University at Number 5.

The rankings took data and characteristics about majors, life on campus and affordability into consideration. Other factors include graduation and retention rates, academic reputation and success of Pell Grant recipients.

Of Oklahoma’s rankings, four schools landed on the national list. OU, TU and OSU all fell in the top 200 schools, while OCU placed at #234 of over 400 schools.

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