United against natural gas expansion

May 21, 2015 By    

Lansing capital building for MPGA eventPropane retailers and other industry leaders in Michigan have a lot of opinions about House Bill 4303, a subsidized natural gas expansion law that was reintroduced for a second time this year in the state’s energy policy committee of the House of Representatives. The bill would allow natural gas to expand into “unserved and underserved areas” using ratepayer funds.

David Lowe, sales consultant with Pro Image Communications, has hoped for years this bill would go away.

“Existing ratepayers will be charged a fee over time to expand natural gas lines to people who don’t have it,” Lowe says. “We don’t think that’s fair. We want to keep this in committee and see it die in committee.”

Lowe, along with dozens of propane retailers and supporters, attended the Michigan Propane Gas Association’s (MPGA) 2015 Propane Safety Awareness Day, an annual lobbying event May 20 in Lansing, Mich. While the lobbying propane retailers typically compete with one another, all banded together to talk to state senators, representatives and their staff members about their stance on House Bill 4303.

Derek Dalling, executive director of Kindsvatter Dalling & Associates, encouraged industry members outside the Michigan Capitol before they left to talk to lawmakers.

“You might not get to talk directly to a senator or representative, but it can go a long way simply talking to staff people in the legislative offices,” he says.

MPGA members talk to lawmakers about HB4303 at event

From left: Scott Underwood with Altogas, Jason Kratt with Hamilton’s Propane Inc. and David Lowe with Pro Image Communications meet with lawmakers to talk about House Bill 4303.

Attendees then split into teams to talk to lawmakers who represented regions they lived in or served.

I shadowed Lowe and several retailers with Hamilton’s Propane Inc. and Altogas as they visited representatives. Although we only managed to meet with some of the senators in passing, we had several opportunities to sit with a couple of these lawmakers’ staff members to explain our issue.

Each of the retailers I was with spoke with self-assurance about House Bill 4303. Lowe says it’s important to “be real and be educated” on the issues when talking to lawmakers, especially staff members. He says staff may have more influence than a senator or representative in some cases.

“The staff might actually listen to us and gain our trust,” Lowe says. “They’re people just like we are and they work for us taxpayers. They don’t know everything about every subject, which is why it’s important for us to advocate and meet with them to answer questions they have on legislation that relates to our industry.”

After visiting with lawmakers, industry members met back outside the Capitol for a cookout. About 200 senators, representatives and their staff members showed up to join in the luncheon. Several vehicles fueled on autogas lined the street next to the luncheon to showcase alternative uses of propane.

It’s uncertain when Michigan’s energy policy committee will make a decision on whether to move forward with House Bill 4303, but Lowe estimates it could be by month’s end. It’s impossible to know how much influence MPGA’s lobbying efforts made, but he says it’s always worth the effort to come out.

“This same bill we’re fighting against was turned down two years ago,” Lowe says. “Our efforts in meeting with lawmakers helped to stop it. But we don’t see this going away for a couple years, as long as the authors and sponsors of it are still in as representatives. We just have to be vigilant and appeal to lawmakers why we think it’s unfair legislation.”

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