Industry finds a friend in Ohio congressman

June 18, 2015 By    

The people kept coming.

Truckers. Railroad representatives. Shippers of all kinds.

They continuously flowed into Bob Latta’s office on Capitol Hill two winters ago, when snow and severely cold weather disrupted the propane distribution system and slowed the movement of propane throughout parts of the United States.

“I can’t tell you how many people were in this room, but having everybody’s information was helpful,” says Latta, a Republican congressman from Ohio’s Fifth District, during a meeting with propane retailers from his state.

According to Latta, who also delivered a speech to those in attendance at Propane Days, the National Propane Gas Association‘s annual lobbying event in Washington, D.C., 27 states experienced propane shortages during the winter of 2013-14. Ohio was struck severely, and Latta’s district particularly felt the pain.

“I had farmers in my area who were willing to pay twice as much for propane to keep their livestock alive,” Latta says. “They were being told [propane] is not even there to buy. They said, ‘We’ve got to save our livelihood.'”

Farmers weren’t the only propane consumers for whom Latta was concerned.

“Senior citizens,” Latta says. “If you had a propane tank, they were only going to be able to fill it partially.”

The propane industry persevered through that winter, but to ensure another one like it doesn’t happen again, Latta and Tim Walz, a Democrat congressman from Minnesota, established the Congressional Propane Caucus with eight other founding members. Latta and Walz established the caucus to provide a bipartisan forum to engage Congress, congressional staff and the public on propane issues.

The caucus was described on several occasions at Propane Days as a communications tool between Congress and the propane industry. It will meet twice annually – once heading into winter and again following winter’s completion.

“We want to expand [the caucus] not just for our region but for this country,” Latta says. “We’re going to expand it and move forward.”

The establishment of the caucus is a big win for the propane industry, says Joe Buschur, owner of McMahan’s Bottle Gas in Dayton, Ohio.

“A lot of people think we’re for gas grills only,” he says. “When your congressman or senator thinks that, that’s probably not a good thing.”

According to Buschur, Congress is now more likely to learn about propane’s many uses because of conversations the caucus will drive. The industry has people like Latta to thank for building awareness, Buschur adds.

“I thought he had a pretty good understanding of how many people in his district use propane and how many businesses use it,” Buschur says.

Buschur visited Latta’s office two years ago during Propane Days to discuss a few issues. Latta was not available at the time, so Buschur left materials with hopes that Latta’s staff would share them with the congressman.

Latta evidently received the materials.

“Later, he came to a reception looking for us,” Buschur says. “For whatever reason, he was interested in propane.”

At this year’s meeting in Latta’s office, the Congressional Propane Caucus wasn’t the only talking point Ohio retailers discussed with Latta. Competition with natural gas was also discussed, as was propane autogas.

“Something new is going to be on the horizon,” Latta says, referring to alternative fuels. “People are looking for innovation.”

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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