Promise of a new year

December 1, 2004 By    

The dire mood of hundreds of propane retailers who responded to our State of the Industry Report this year could be buoyed by the promise of a kinder, less onerous federal government heading into the new year.

 Patrick Hyland
Patrick Hyland

Admittedly, it’s those who are unhappy who most readily offer their thoughts when invited to comment for our annual report. Still, each year we hear concerns that are obviously honest and straightforward. We consider them representative of the industry overall, especially when so many are raising the same issues.

And when 21 percent of retailers selling under 1 million gallons a year conclude they expect to – or hope to – be acquired in the next year, there is validation in their worries and discouragement.

There is plenty of reason for hope as the worries of 2004 blend into the realities of 2005, however. With George W. Bush’s victory, we can expect significant benefits to the propane industry:

  • Lower taxes – The president wants to use his second term to overhaul the tax code and make it simpler. He promised to make his previous tax cuts permanent. Small businesses also should benefit from his plans to shield interest, dividends and capital gains from taxation, and expand tax breaks for investment.
  • Fewer regulations – Like most propane retailers, Bush believes that more federal statutes and laws interfere with the ability of small businesses to compete. Look for the new administration to soften the push for over-the-road restrictions and eliminate some of the hazmat regulations the industry views as most contentious.
  • Tort reform – You couldn’t turn on the TV during the presidential campaign without hearing Bush talk about reforming “frivolous lawsuits.” He promised to work with Congress for laws limiting liability for companies that are, by necessity, doing potentially hazardous work (like delivering propane). That lines up well with the National Propane Gas Association’s new state tort reform project to spread the success of tort reforms in Kansas and Colorado and deliver long-sought relief to all propane retailers.
  • Court appointments – This is one of the most overlooked aspects of presidential power, but one of the most crucial. Judging by Bush’s first term, he will continue to appoint business-friendly judges who will short-circuit attempts by environmental activists to prevent oil drilling and ever-tougher air quality standards.

As Washington becomes a more Republican town, expectations are high that a new, more conservative Congress will work with the Bush administration to deliver the kind of national energy policy our industry so desperately needs. That should turn more than a few propane retailer frowns upside down.

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