Having a warm place to call home is a necessity during these cold winter months. Especially here in Minnesota, where winter temperatures have plunged to record lows. For families who struggle to heat their homes, this extreme weather isn’t just uncomfortable — it can be downright dangerous. And over the last few months, an ongoing propane shortage has put an even greater strain on families who rely on this fuel as their main source of heat.
After an unseasonably wet fall and extremely cold winter, we’ve seen a sharp decline in propane supply that has sent prices through the roof — more than doubling to more than $4 per gallon this winter.
This price spike and propane shortage is having far-reaching and dangerous effects in rural Minnesota. Not only is it impacting more than 200,000 households in Minnesota that rely on propane to stay warm, it’s also hurting livestock and poultry producers who need it to heat their barns and keep their animals warm.
With more cold weather ahead, we need to deliver relief to Minnesota families, businesses and farmers that depend on propane for heat. That’s why along with Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and other Minnesota lawmakers, I have urged the Obama administration to address the propane shortage and provide relief to families in need. In emergency situations like this, we should spare no effort when it comes to getting relief to those who need it most.
To alleviate the infrastructure and transportation bottleneck that is choking off supply to the Midwest, we asked the Department of Transportation to expand hours-of-service regulations that would let truck drivers work longer hours. The administration acted on this request and is taking immediate steps to make it easier to deliver propane to Minnesota from states like Texas and Kansas that have extra supply.
We also called on the Department of Energy to knock down regulatory barriers to ensure that propane is available where the need is greatest. After this request, the administration announced it will work with pipeline operators to prioritize propane shipments to the Midwest so we can get this fuel to Minnesota.
We also need to protect the health and well-being of families in need. That means providing short-term financial assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Sens. Franken, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin and I recently asked the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for the immediate release of funds for Minnesota. The administration moved swiftly on our request and released nearly $16 million in emergency LIHEAP funding, which will make a big difference for families struggling to heat their homes. Governor Dayton has also signed legislation that provides an additional $20 million dollars in state funds to the LIHEAP program.
According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 percent of those served by this heating assistance have at least one senior, a person with a disability or a child under the age of 18. This new federal and state money will be critical to securing a safety net for those families that are struggling to pay the drastically increased propane prices.
Finally, we need to address the long term propane storage and shipment issues to ensure Minnesota is protected against volatile price swings in the future. I have introduced bipartisan legislation regarding our current capacity to store refined petroleum products like propane. My bipartisan bill requires the Secretary of Energy to consider the feasibility of increasing storage levels in regions like the Midwest and how it could prevent price spikes due to supply shortages from natural disasters or other disruptions.