Notes from Propane Days and industry’s latest lobbying effort

June 28, 2013 By    

Forty-one states and the Cayman Islands were represented at the ninth annual Propane Days lobbying event June 17-19 in Washington, D.C.

With 17 delegates, California led the industry’s total of 249 in Washington, followed by Pennsylvania (15), Maryland (13) and Texas (13). The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) had 15 staffers on hand to update attendees on industry issues and facilitate the program.

The event’s attendance high of 364 delegates came in 2009.

The issues

Attendees were briefed on six issues having an impact on the propane industry. Maintaining parity with natural gas and extending alternative fuel tax credits got top billing.

Credits on fuel (50 cents per gallon) and refueling infrastructure (30 percent of the equipment’s cost, up to $30,000) expire at year’s end.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s (DOC) ongoing restriction of Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) activities also was explained to attendees. Since 2009, PERC has been prevented from touting the benefits of propane to consumers nationally. A consumer protection provision in legislation that created PERC, having to do with the rise in propane prices against competing fuels, kicked in and led to the restriction.

Industry officials say DOC has failed to respond to their requests to recalculate the price data – a process required by the Propane Education and Research Act – and were hoping congressional leaders would learn of this inactivity at Propane Days. A new consumer education campaign could spur industry growth, officials say.

Propane Days also stressed the industry’s push for the federal government to use carbon footprint labeling on consumer appliances. This approach, also referred to as full fuel cycle, would educate consumers more thoroughly on efficiencies and environmental impacts of the appliances they buy, industry officials say.

Crane use in the propane industry has been a hot topic. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is implementing new standards for all industries, requiring crane operators on construction sites to have third-party certification by an accredited source. The overall cost for this added training could exceed $21 million, according to OSHA data cited by NPGA. OSHA recently pushed back the compliance date by three years, to 2017, and NPGA has been working with the agency to exempt propane companies from the rule.

The propane industry also lobbied for permanent estate tax relief to protect family-owned businesses.

Industry officials say current issues in Washington – National Security Agency leaks, immigration reform, sequestration – serve as distractions to accomplishing these goals.

Keynote address

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is a proponent of policies supporting alternative fuels, and he conveyed that mindset during his keynote address.

“We have to think of more and better ways to tell your story,” he told attendees. “It’s a broader energy story.”

In March, Casey introduced the Natural Gas Energy and Alternatives Rewards Act (NGEAR Act). The bill, which promotes the domestic development and deployment of natural gas and clean energy technologies, remains in committee.

The bill would extend tax credits for alternative fuels and refueling property through 2016. It also would establish a rebate program through 2016 for the purchase of alternatively fueled buses – the lesser of 30 percent of the purchase price or $15,000.

A week after Propane Days, Casey visited AmeriGas headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa., to unveil new legislation, the Clean Vehicle Corridors Act, which would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish clean vehicle corridors along interstate highways across the country. These corridors, through refueling stations and other infrastructure, would encourage the promotion of propane as well as other alternative fuels.

Economic outlook

The economy has been growing over the last four years but not accelerating and the employment picture is “abysmal,” the chief economist of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told attendees.

“We’re 48 months into the recovery and we’re still about 2 million jobs away from getting to the prior peak in employment,” said Martin Regalia, noting the large number of employees who have left the workforce. “It is an absolutely abysmal performance.”

While the financial markets have rebounded since the recession, the real estate side remains in a state of repair, he said. But there are signs of hope.

“For those of you who drive demand off housing, the situation is getting gradually better,” he said. “I expect it to accelerate gradually through the course of this year and into next year.”

Focus on regulations

The Regulatory Leaders Forum on the final day was lightly attended, but representatives from DOT and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) made several notable points.

Vanessa Sutherland, chief legal official at DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, says a petition to extend the bobtail requalification period from five to 10 years is undergoing policy analysis and the agency hopes to have a decision sometime this summer.

Sutherland also referenced the May recall of 55,000 two-piece composite propane cylinders manufactured by The Lite Cylinder Co. She says the agency, through its website at www.phmsa.dot.gov, is pushing out messages to consumers who own the recalled cylinders.

John Hardridge, a motor carrier/hazmat safety specialist with DOT, says cargo tank rollovers remain a concern in his department, and DOT plans to add a prevention toolbox to its website in the coming months. It already has a video on rollover prevention. Specific materials for the propane industry are available from PERC.

“We’re trying to get more information to people to train drivers to be more careful,” he says.

Bruce Lundegren, assistant chief counsel for advocacy at SBA, reviewed OSHA’s new crane rule.

Inspiring story

The most stirring presentation of Propane Days went to ThompsonGas CEO Randy Thompson, new chairman of the NPGA Governmental Affairs Committee, who used the story of racehorse Secretariat to motivate attendees on their congressional mission.

Thompson showed interview clips from actors in the 2010 movie “Secretariat,” starring Diane Lane and John Malkovich, and real footage of the horse’s inspiring ride to the Triple Crown in 1973.

Autogas vehicle display

A propane autogas vehicle display was held during Propane Days. A Ford F-250 pickup promoting the Pennsylvania Propane Gas Association, Ford E-250 van promoting Prince George’s County (Md.) and an Isuzu NPR Schwan’s ice cream truck were featured on the streets of Washington, D.C.

John Roberts, vice president and managing director of Bi-Phase, which provides the propane conversion system for Schwan’s trucks, served free ice cream to passersby.

In the news

Propane got some media attention during the industry gathering in Washington. Politico ran a news item on June 18 under the headline “Propane fly-in to be a gas, gas, gas?” NPGA also had a colorful half-page ad with “Propane” in large lettering, “Fuel for thought” below it, packaged with several industry facts.

Brian Richesson

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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