States keep a watchful eye on what happens out west

June 8, 2023 By    

Just like the jet stream that carries winter storms across the country in the heart of heating season, rules and regulations that promulgate in California tend to make their way east.

The state’s unique demographics and size, its bleeding-edge technology and innovation, and large government sector are among the factors that give it this out-in-front standing. So, while those in the Golden State stand directly on the battleground, the rest of the country must stay on high alert.

From the propane industry’s perspective, the battle raging today comes from those who believe that one energy source (electricity) will provide the saving grace for the nation’s clean energy future.

It’s a narrative that Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council, calls “ridiculous.”

“Some people believe that electricity comes from honeybees and walnuts, and it has no implications,” Perkins said to a room full of chuckling propane marketers and other industry members during May’s Western Propane Trade Show & Convention in Palm Springs, California.

In a discussion on policy, it might not matter that electrification pushes emissions upstream or that the mining of minerals for electric vehicle batteries and other components disrupts the environment somewhere else around the world – because, Perkins says, “we’re not winning the war in public opinion right now.”

And that influences policymakers at the local and state levels who continue to push gas bans in favor of electrification, often in residential and/or commercial construction applications.

It’s happening in California – save for a recent key ruling in Berkeley – but also in places like Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York. In California, the industry is also fighting the California Air Resources Board’s efforts to ban internal combustion engine forklifts.

Likewise at the federal level, the industry is working to stave off threats to gas stoves, furnaces and water heaters.

Solution oriented

What can the industry do to counter the electrification movement in some of its traditionally thriving markets and preserve energy choice for consumers? Lean on leaders like Colin Sueyres in the West, Leslie Anderson in New England and many others in between.

“Those of us in the middle of the country are able to take advantage of the fact that they are on the front lines in this important battle,” Steve Ahrens of the Missouri and Arkansas propane gas associations shared during his LP Gas Hall of Fame induction speech, which recognized the “critical and cutting-edge work” of his state association peers. “What they are doing is developing the messaging and strategies that the rest of us will eventually use.”

Sueyres is about one year in as president and CEO of the Western Propane Gas Association, but you get the sense that he’s ready to fight alongside his board members and other industry colleagues to give Californians a clean, reliable, affordable energy source of the future.

“There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and energy with these relatively newer state executives. What I found is they all get it,” says Sueyres, recognizing the group’s unique perspectives and their collaborative efforts to help one another succeed.

Back inside the auditorium, Perkins shifts into motivation mode, talking gallon-growth goals and trending markets like power generation, transportation and material handling. He encourages marketers to tell their story, propane’s story, because the battle will be won “from the bottom up” and not by national politicians.

Sometimes when he boards a flight in the wee hours of the morning, Perkins asks himself whether he’s fighting an uphill battle. And then he recalls the identity he’s working to protect.

“We wouldn’t be propane people if we weren’t a little bit challenged to move forward,” he says. “We don’t work for natural gas; we don’t work for the electric utility. We’re propane people. We just have to persevere through this period.

“Let me assure you,” he adds, “the tide is turning.”

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