New York propane industry defends its future

August 15, 2022 By    

In the column that follows, Bill Overbaugh, executive director of the New York Propane Gas Association (NYPGA), details how the association activated its membership and partners in the propane industry to fight one of the fiercest battles for propane’s future to date.

New York’s propane industry mobilized to defend against gas ban legislation. (Image: adempercem, WendellandCarolyn: iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

New York’s propane industry mobilized to defend against gas ban legislation. (Image: adempercem, WendellandCarolyn: iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

New York State’s Climate Act (2019) requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. Thus far, the Climate Action Council (CAC), tasked with developing a framework for implementation, has proposed outright bans on fossil fuels in favor of electrification. Just two of the 22-member committee represent industry.

“They were not looking for balance,” explains Overbaugh. “They were looking for folks to put together recommendations for how to achieve Climate Act goals rather than looking for practical solutions.”

The public comment period on the council’s Draft Scoping Plan ended July 1. Next, the council will develop and submit a final plan to state governance by Jan. 1, 2023.

As you’ll read below, NYPGA and the propane marketers of New York have made their voices heard to the council and the public. But those voices may fall on deaf ears where the CAC is concerned, suggests Overbaugh.

“Our hope initially was to express to CAC that there’s not unanimous support for what they’re doing and they need to rethink their different pathways to incorporate cleaner-burning fuels like propane and natural gas. As the process went on, it became clear that they don’t feel that’s their mandate,” he says.

The assumption, instead, is that more moderate solutions will emerge during the legislative process.

NYPGA is shifting tactics to generate letters to legislators and the governor, and to focus on individual pieces of legislation that threaten to ban propane in new construction later this decade and in remodels early next decade. 

Assistance from NPGA

The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) contributed the following forms of support in NYPGA’s fight:

  • An 11-page technical letter written primarily by NPGA codes and standards experts addressing problems with the Draft Scoping Plan and submitted to the CAC June 30.
  • $20,000 grant from the NPGA State Engagement Fund.
  • A grassroots letter-writing tool that allowed NYPGA to submit almost 20,000 letters to the CAC or legislators.

– Ellen Kriz

Propane fights back in New York

At a time when total electrification efforts are gaining steam in blue states, New York may be the canary in the coal mine.

Headshot: Bill Overbaugh


In 2019, New York passed the most radical carbon emissions reduction law in the country. It established a Climate Action Council (CAC) to come up with implementation plans and empowered any citizen to sue the state if the law’s goals are not met.

In December 2021, the CAC delivered three potential pathways to meet the goals. All of them spell some version of doom for our industry. Depending on which of their plans are adopted:

  • Propane, natural gas and oil equipment would be banned in new buildings as early as 2024.
  • No new propane, natural gas or heating oil equipment could be installed in existing homes as early as 2030.
  • Carbon taxes and equipment surcharges would be used to hasten the conversion of homes to heat pumps and fund unprecedented subsidies for electrification.
  • Localities would be encouraged to use “stretch codes” to move even faster.
  • Only one of the pathways includes a role for renewable fuels like renewable propane but only as a bridge fuel until all combustion is eliminated.

Recognizing reality

The leadership of the New York Propane Gas Association (NYPGA) recognized early on that we faced an existential threat to our future. It doesn’t matter that propane (or natural gas) offers significant environmental advantages over coal and oil. The only criteria that matter in New York are greenhouse gas emissions – carbon and methane – and on that grading scale, all traditional fuels get F’s. Nor are they much interested in the advances we can make toward becoming renewable.

We believe our only hope in slowing the electrification freight train is to alert the public to the true downsides of this path and enlist their support in pushing back. Only by changing the political calculus can we move these officials to consider propane as a useful asset in a transitioning energy universe, involving far less cost and disruption.

Launching our campaign

Screenshot by LP Gas staff

Screenshot by LP Gas staff

Voter polling illuminated a path forward. Our marketing firm, Warm Thoughts Communications, interviewed more than 3,600 voters in eight states on behalf of the New England Fuel Institute. The majority in each state supported plans to reduce carbon emissions through electrification. However, when they saw messaging about the costs, risks and restrictions that are likely, majority support turned to majority oppose. The problem is getting those messages out to the general public, especially when much of the media is against us.

Our board prioritized this fight above all other issues. We started the process of raising a battle fund. Warm Thoughts had recently spearheaded a $1.2 million campaign in New Jersey on behalf of the Fuel Merchants Association to frustrate Gov. Phil Murphy’s plans to mandate conversions to heat pumps. Their experience was an invaluable asset in strategizing and executing our plans.

We created a small steering committee to act as a command center for the campaign. Our participating members are phenomenal. We realized the campaign needed to be about forced electrification, not propane. We are far too small a piece of the electorate. We need to engage those who use natural gas, heating oil and wood, too. We dubbed the campaign Smarter NY Energy (check out our website

Several companies stepped up early to get the ball rolling, contributing between $5,000 to $10,000. One anonymous donor offered to match contributions up to $75,000, which was incredible. Rinnai chipped in a sizeable amount, as did Superior Plus. All told, we have collected almost $350,000 from more than 35 members and associate members, and we are still gaining support.

We were also able to use our significant state PERC funding for some aspects of our campaign, but need to be very careful because of restrictions on that money. It can’t be used to advocate or comment on legislation, among other things.

Doubts about electricity

Voter polling conducted in the Northeast by Warm Thoughts Communications found that support for electrification dropped from a majority to a minority position when voters were presented with a series of statements explaining the likely outcomes and potential downsides of electrification.

Top messages that raised major doubts:

  • Cost: These kinds of plans will force homeowners who use propane, natural gas or home heating oil to switch to electric heat pumps, which could cost upwards of $20,000 or more.
  • Inequality: Forcing homeowners to spend thousands of dollars to convert to new heat sources will hit low-income families the hardest, as they will either pay as homeowners or through increases in rent if they are renters.

Other concepts that raised major doubts:

  • The substantial investment in electric infrastructure required would result in much higher electricity costs.
  • Electric heat pumps are ineffective in cold temperatures.
  • Switching to electricity will cause frequent power outages, especially during the coldest days.

Source: Warm Thoughts Communications

Results so far

In the last eight months:

  • Over 200,000 people have visited
  • 40,000 visited
  • 400,000-plus have watched our video ads (see them on YouTube by searching Smarter NY Energy).
  • Our Facebook ads have reached over 2,000,000 people with over 300,000 engagements.
  • 90 propane companies distribute our bill insert “Propane Matters in NY” to over 200,000 customers.
  • Our display ads have generated over 6,500,000 impressions.
  • We emailed 1.5 million “receptive” people, and 100,000 went to our website.
  • We participated in the PERC digital ad campaign promoting propane as a green energy source.
  • Significantly, we’ve generated almost 20,000 letters to either the CAC public comment line or to legislators. We understand that our letters represent a large chunk of the total comments the CAC has received.

Using sophisticated tactics

Warm Thoughts placed code on the letter writing software the National Propane Gas Association provided to us so we could tell which of our ads yielded the most letters or engagement, and steer funding toward them. They created “look-alike” audiences from the people who wrote letters, visited the website or engaged us on Facebook, which allowed Google and Facebook to target the broader population with more precision. We retargeted people who visited the website. Our members also stepped up in a big way, sending more than 200,000 emails to customers, distributing “Propane Matters,” and using their own Facebook pages to amplify our messages. We created a toolkit for them to use as samples.

We are actively working to expand our coalition to other like-minded industry, consumer and advocacy groups. As more of the public is waking up and making their voices heard, we see indications that moderate Democrats are growing more wary about possible voter backlash. But we have a long way to go, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stiffened the resolve of our opponents.

It will be a long, tough fight for our future, but two things are certain:

  • If you are in a blue state, some version of this movie is coming soon to a theater near you.
  • This canary won’t just roll over and die without a fight.

Bill Overbaugh is executive director of the New York Propane Gas Association. Reach him at 607-351-0315.

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