Advocating for propane in unfriendly territory

May 3, 2022 By    

Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE), anticipates a difficult year on the advocacy front.

Leslie Anderson


She’s busy testifying about propane’s contributions to energy security, environmental justice and decarbonization, but she’s meeting stiff resistance.

The electrification push is intensifying in New England as legislators try to accomplish as much as they can before the next election, she explains. Votes are cast on party lines in a way she hasn’t seen before.

“I think we’re going to be less successful than years past,” she says. “It’s either black or white. People are not listening.”

In this antagonistic environment, major compromises are on the table for propane.

“A win in Vermont today is being able to sell product with a carbon credit requirement in order to avoid being excluded completely,” says Anderson.

Still, Anderson resolves to keep fighting, citing success in passing a freedom of energy choice bill in New Hampshire last year.

“We’ve been successful in defeating the worst bills,” she says. “Right now, we’re just staying above water.”

Core messages

The propane industry’s core messaging pillars of energy equity and decarbonization have drawn varying degrees of interest in New England. Here are some of the arguments Anderson has been making in the region’s statehouses:

Energy security: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine attests to the value of propane in a crisis. Thanks to propane’s portability, nonprofits like World Central Kitchen have been able to establish mobile cooking sites to support evacuees.

Back home, propane is the “perfect partner for renewables,” supplying energy when sun and wind power are unavailable, says Anderson.

But propane can’t supply these key services by powering backup generators alone, Anderson emphasizes. The industry’s core residential market must remain intact for businesses to survive, which is why she opposes gas bans in new construction.

Environmental and social justice: Propane is a better partner for renewables than battery storage because propane doesn’t rely on heavy metals like cobalt, nickel and lithium. Mining for these metals causes environmental degradation in some of the world’s most disadvantaged economies, and can involve child labor, says Anderson.

Despite volatile energy prices due to the war in Ukraine, prices for propane have proven relatively stable, remaining affordable for economically depressed communities in New England, she adds.

Decarbonization: Anderson testified against a bill in Connecticut that would incentivize zero-emissions vehicles, measured by tailpipe emissions alone, even though a full lifecycle comparison would show that a propane bus emits less than an electric bus.

In some cases, says Anderson, state agencies are projecting emissions data under the assumption that future electrification goals will be met and then comparing those projections to emissions from propane today, says Anderson. She proposes, instead, comparing those projections to the propane of the future, including lower-carbon renewable propane.

The fact-based arguments aren’t carrying much weight: “When you say propane has lower emissions, all of the data on that doesn’t get any questions,” observes Anderson.

But the emotional appeals are resonating better: “Everything is emotional when you go to the legislature. They aren’t considering the facts,” she says.

Thus far, says Anderson, the arguments about how battery metals are mined have been the most powerful, sparking conversation and debate in committee. She considers the possibility of partnering with environmental groups that oppose battery usage in the future.

Anderson deems the political landscape in New England five or 10 years ahead of many areas of the country, and urges industry members nationwide to spread the messages attached to the “Energy for Everyone” campaign.

She recommends propane’s feel-good stories, in particular.

“If we can start to change thinking in other areas where they’re not battling for their lives, it’s going to help them down the road,” says Anderson. “We’re almost too late in our states. There’s such a bias. We should have educated consumers and policymakers about propane’s environmental benefits years ago.”

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