Eyes wide open to degrees of change

May 1, 2007 By    

The following issues of price gouging, war spending, climate change and homeland security are worth watching even as they impact the industry to different degrees.

Lisa Bontempo Washington Bureau
Lisa Bontempo Washington Bureau

Price gouging – back to the future?

With the official winter heating season now ending, concerns about heating fuel price spikes may be ending, too. But it may be time for the industry to dust off its 1970s era talking points when the industry was under price control regulation.

A bill introduced recently by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., calls for the Federal Trade Commission to define price gouging. This includes all crude and refined petroleum products and makes it unlawful to sell defined fuels at “unconscionably excessive” rates or at a price that “indicates the seller is taking unfair advantage of unusual market conditions or the circumstances of an emergency to increase prices unreasonably.”

Stupak is chairman of the House’s Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and a call for price gouging legislation was a priority of House and Senate Democrats in the mid-term election.

In response to the bill, the American Council for Capital Formation recently released a study showing that price controls create shortages and cost the economy billions of dollars.

War funding bill draws interest

The nearly $124 billion emergency war funding bill being sent to the president includes several items of interest for the propane industry.

A package of small business tax cuts and a minimum wage increase described in an earlier column are attached to this legislation as is funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

In addition, the agreement reached between the House and Senate includes language to pre-empt chemical security rules published recently by the Department of Homeland Security (see below). Both House and Senate Democrats, who continue to look at ways to move chemical users to “inherently safer” technologies, want to be sure that the new DHS rules do not override stronger state regulation through federal pre-emption.

As this goes to press, the supplemental appropriations bill funding the war is a top Congressional priority that includes a timeframe for troop withdrawal. The legislation is threatened by a presidential veto and may have been vetoed by the time you read this.

All eyes on global warming

There is much activity on energy issues in the House and Senate this year, with climate change driving much of the concern and definition of issues.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he wants to see legislation before Memorial Day and has called for increased production and use of renewable fuels and energy-efficient products, buildings and vehicles.

The Senate Finance Committee already has held three hearings on energy taxes, most recently on tax incentives for alternative fuels and vehicles. This committee alone is working on extending and expanding renewable energy production tax credits; funding for investment tax credits for gasifying coal and biomass to replace natural gas in making fertilizers and chemicals; and may consider aid to municipalities, rural electric cooperatives and others in the form of energy bonds for building clean-coal power plants.

Homeland security

One piece of legislation worth watching is a bill to regulate the sale of ammonium nitrate, the chemical commonly used to make fertilizer used on the farm. The chemical has been used in terrorist attacks both at home and abroad. Currently the House bill calls for purchasers and manufacturers to register with the Department of Homeland Security and to regulate the sale and purchase of the chemical.

Other security legislation that passed both the House and Senate is a measure to implement the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. This legislation was a priority for Democrats and passed each chamber early in the session. While both bills do not directly impact the industry, there is a provision that addresses inspection of cargo containers and is being closely watched by those in the transportation and hazardous materials industries.

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