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For Immediate Release: Sunday, January 27, 2002

The Laclede Gas Request for a $36.1 Million Rate Hike
Robs Money From the Area Needy Families, Who
Are Still Paying Off Last Year's Outrageous Heating Bills

The request by Laclede Gas, a gas utility provider for more than 600,000 customers in eastern Missouri, to obtain a $36.1 million rate hike within less than a year of receiving at least one other to be used for administrative costs, such as salaries, is corporate greed at its worst, and it literally takes food from the tables of the poor, and continues to endanger the safety and well-being of many of its customers, according Heat-Up St. Louis, Inc., a non-profit energy assistance and advocacy organization covering the bi-state region.

"Laclede Gas staffers and executives are overpaid as it is, many gas consumers are already robbing Peter to pay Paul, and now Laclede is trying to muscle in again on those tight budgets," said Trotter. "At a time when many area residents are facing layoffs, and some are still battling to pay last year’s outrageous heating bills, Laclede’s request is not only an affront to the poor but to the working class folk on the verge of tightening their budgets as natural gas prices still are not affordable to many." Trotter says despite the warm temperatures this winter, the organization has fielded as least 1,500 telephone calls from individuals seeking energy assistance since December.

"Families should not have to resort to unsafe means of heating their homes this winter, and no matter how high the temperature climbs, people are still cold on those consistent waves of cold snaps, and this too is extremely unhealthy," said the Reverend Earl E. Nance, Jr., chairman of campaigns for the non-profit energy assistance advocacy organization.

Heat-Up St. Louis, a not-for-profit energy assistance and advocacy organization which operates in counties in Missouri and Illinois, opposed the original $39.8 million rate before the Missouri Public Service Commission last fall. The commission slashed that rate hike to $15 million. Trotter announced today that he will call an emergency meeting of the executive committee and ask them to vote in opposition of the current rate hike.

"If Laclede Gas wishes to offset its low sales revenue due to an anticipated warmer winter then it needs to fire high paid executives, managers and give some kind of early retirement incentives," said Trotter. "Like the energized bunny, they keep coming back and making a profit on the backs of the poor, and this is the worst form of corporate greed."

In addition to the filing for a $36.1 million rate increase, which would result in a monthly average increase of about $4.40 per customer, Laclede's Chairman Douglas Yaeger wants customers to pay more during low-use months and less during high-use months.

At face value, this weather-mitigation sought by Laclede clearly indicates their gross insensitivity and lack of understanding that during the traditionally hot steamy summer months in the St. Louis region, electricity usage often increases due to the demand of more air-conditioning.

"Laclede is not taking into consideration that the needy would be in life and death situations in the summer months with high gas and electric bills combined," said Trotter. "What it appears they wish to do is avoid future emergency rules under the cold weather rule enacted by the regulatory agency, so they will not lose their winter cash flow."

Trotter said that the current Emergency Rule covering the winter months provides much relief to gas customers at all levels of income, and it gives them an opportunity to immediate pay $250 or 25% which ever is less and takes the balance of the past due bills and spreads the payments equally over 18 months. In addition, this does not prevent customers from signing up for a budget plan with their local utility. "This gives the customer, especially those on fixed-incomes, the opportunity to manage their bills better," said Trotter.

Heat-Up St. Louis officials announced that they have referred at least 300 people to take advantage of this year's Emergency Rule, that their gas provider should follow, under the rules set by the PSC. "This is a blessing, especially for those people's whose income levels do not qualify them for energy assistance," said the Reverend Earl E. Nance, Jr.

Heat-Up St. Louis urges Laclede Gas to review discount or low-income rate programs, which includes income-based, usage-based discounts and the elimination of certainly monthly charges.

The organization also announced that this coming weekend, February 2 and 3, it is sponsoring a Super Heat Weekend Collection, in honor of the Super Bowl Game. The Reverend Earl E. Nance, Jr., pastor of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and a sports enthusiast last week made a request to more than 1,700 congregations of numerous faiths in Missouri and Illinois to take special collections in honor of the poor, elderly, disabled and unemployed. The congregations have until March 15, to return their donations. For more information call 314-241-7668.

"This is another productive way of joining forces to help many parishioners and others who still have the challenge of paying last year's and this year's heating bills, despite the on-again, off-again warm winter temperatures," said Reverend Nance.

Individuals, who will not be attending a worship service this Super Bowl Weekend can send their donations to Heat-Up St. Louis, c/o Truman Bank, P. O. Box 9330, St. Louis, MO 63117 or log on the website at www.heatupstlouis.org. All donations are tax-deductible.

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