Advocates for elderly and low-income Iowans told a congressional task force Monday that some families could be forced to forgo meals or medication if a cold winter drives up natural gas prices, which already are twice as high as a year ago.
Unless the winter is very harsh, Iowa utilities said they are on track to be at full storage capacity by October and should be able to keep pace with demand. However, demand continues to grow and a limited supply could mean a potential crisis, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said.
"We are in the midst of a problem that may be worsening," said Latham, who was named in July to the Congressional Task Force for Affordable Natural Gas.
"Demand for natural gas is up 36 percent since 1986 and is expected to be up by 50 percent from current levels in 2025," Latham said. "Coupled with a stagnant supply, this has created competition for a limited resource."
"This issue especially concerns seniors, the disabled and Iowans on a fixed income," said State Rep. Lisa Heddens, an Ames Democrat. "Some of them can't save for increased natural gas costs because if they reach a certain income they may lose other services."
Arlene McAtee, of Mid-Iowa Community Action Inc. in Marshalltown, said some families may be forced to eat just once a day or give up buying needed medication. Assistance programs have limited money available and charitable contributions are down due to the slow economy, she said.
State Rep. Ralph Watts, an Adel Republican, said supply problems could be alleviated by drilling into abundant reserves in Western states.
"We're stymied by environmental policies," he said.
Watts called for a national energy policy that would include oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and increased use of coal and nuclear power.