After Crane Rule, Industry Focuses On Other Concerns

Jeff Petrash, National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) vice president and general counsel, said a quote from a Rolling Stones song that may summarize as well as anything the industry’s results on years of fighting for an exemption from the OSHA Crane Rule. “You can’t always get what you want,” the lyrics say. “But if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” While the total exemption was not agreed to, the rule limits the expensive certification to installing tanks at construction sites. “This was not as sweeping as we would have liked, but it narrowed the application of the rule to a small segment of propane tank setters, many of whom are in situations where they already have the certification,” Petrash said.

“Nearly one dozen webinars conducted by NPGA after OSHA’s November rulemaking of the Crane Rule reached one-third to one-half of the NPGA membership,” Petrash said. “It was decided that the certification requirement was curtailed sufficiently that this was good enough. It was not worth the time or money to bring litigation or fight for a legislative rollback.” For most, the process of setting tanks at homes just requires employees have sufficient training to do the task at hand; a certified crane operator can be hired as a contractor in rare instances when needed rather than have employees do the expensive third-party certification process.

Natural gas expansion is always a big concern in the propane industry, especially where attempts are made to have existing natural gas customers subsidize the expansion. In addition to Petrash, Lesley Garland, vice president, state affairs, is engaged in monitoring natural gas expansion as are Jacob Peterson, manager, state engagement, and Eric Sears, manager, state association relations. Peterson and Sears recently joined NPGA as more efforts are being made to engage and partner with states on issues like natural gas expansion. “The natural gas expansion activity has been lighter lately, but we know that can always change,” Petrash said. "Jacob found an online system that tracks public service filings and alerts us to new filings. For now, the number of natural gas expansion filings is down.”

Peterson and Petrash attend meetings of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) so that the propane industry has a consistent presence in the discussions of these associations.“ Jacob went with me in November and he represented us again in February,” Petrash said. “Jacob has been attending the NASEO meetings. It is important for us to be there as we represent 10% of the energy portfolio of many states and sometimes experience supply challenges that garner state attention.”

Many changes happened in Michigan after the November elections when new officials—most notably the governor and attorney general—who ran on a platform of shutting down Enbridge Line 5 were elected. “Governor Gretchen Whitmer had complained during the campaign that the previous governor, Rick Snyder, was binding the hands of the next governor. Governor Snyder had reached a tentative deal to put the pipeline into an underground tunnel,” Petrash said. “The agreement by the attorney general was ruled to be not consistent with the Michigan constitution and Governor Whitmer ordered that all activity be stopped.”

“This movement is gaining strength,” Petrash said. “I think we will likely be dealing with the many powerful groups that represent electricity for years to come.” While NPGA is currently aligned with the American Gas Association and many municipal gas utilities, all are continuing to look for additional groups to align with.

Two initiatives seeking greater transparency continue to be on hold as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been dealing with personnel changes. One petition seeks better reporting of data on the pipeline including products shipped, costs, and revenues. The other seeks a wall between the liquids pipeline and its affiliates engaged in market transactions such as selling propane. Among other changes last year, FERC chairman Kevin McIntyre had relinquished his role for health reasons and later passed away. Neil Chatterjee, a previous chairman and former energy policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was appointed to replace him last October.

“We continue to be engaged with FERC activity because in addition to the two initiatives, next year FERC will review methods to determine indexed rates,” Petrash said. “They will also be determining how tax cuts are factored in and whether index rates will be reduced accordingly.” — Pat Thornton

(Butane-Propane News magazine, May 2019)