Propane Days Agenda: Educate and Lobby A New Congress

With a new Congress that includes 100 freshman members, 91 of them in the House of Representatives, it seems that making progress is taking even longer than usual. “A lot of issues got kicked down the road as the new Congress took over and now things are moving slower as so many new Congress members are coming up to speed on all of the issues,” said Michael Baker, director, legislative affairs for the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA). “We’ve been actively working on getting to know all of the new members of Congress and their staff. We’ve been to over 150 Congressional offices so far. At a certain point, there is only so much industry lobbyists can accomplish as these offices welcome input directly from their constituents. They are part of the propane industry in states and districts, and it is extremely valuable for them to visit these members of Congress and the staff who keep them up to date on all of the issues.”
Propane Days Washington DC logoA key opportunity for this, of course, is NPGA’s annual Propane Days event, which is set for June 2-5 in Washington, D.C. “Industry members are needed as much as ever,” said Baker. “With so many new members of Congress, education is an important part of the process of lobbying.” Baker believes that even if industry members do not feel current issues concern them greatly, it is still important for them to keep the lines of communication open. “Establishment of these relationships is critical when issues arise that require immediate action,” Baker said.

Alternative Fuel Tax Credits
One issue that is critical for the expansion of propane’s use as a fuel for autogas and forklifts is the need for as many financial incentives as possible. “Many tax credits are still active, but 29 have expired since 2017,” Baker said. “A 37 cent-per-gallon credit on propane as an auto fuel and a fuel for forklifts is under consideration. Support for this credit and a broader package of short-term tax provisions appears to be popular in both the House and Senate. We need Congress to get this on the agenda and take some much-needed action.”

DRIVE-Safe Act
Seen by many as a win-win because it fills a critical need while providing a job for younger people in the job market, the DRIVE-Safe Act has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. “Across all industries in America, there is a shortage of 50,000 commercial drivers,” Baker said. The bills before the House and Senate call for a two-stage apprenticeship program that would allow qualified drivers aged 18-21 to participate in interstate commerce. Currently, Federal law requires drivers to be 21 to participate in interstate commerce. “We want to work with other industries to bring a safe path forward for these younger drivers,” Baker said. “Too often the higher age requirements for truck driving jobs cause potential drivers to go in other directions, learn new skills, and then they are unavailable for driving jobs at the age of 21 because they’ve invested their time and value in other occupations.”

Waiver of the Jones Act for Propane
The Jones Act is a century-old law requiring that only U.S.-built vessels may carry products from one U.S. port to another. In the case of propane, there are no U.S.-built vessels for shipping the fuel. While it must seem like common sense to allow non-U.S.-built vessels to move propane from one U.S. port to another, especially to prevent a shortage or avoid requiring propane to be bought from a foreign country, it is not that easy. The shipbuilders and dockworkers have a strong lobby that doesn’t like Congress to budge an inch on waivers of the Jones Act out of fear it will lead to more and more waivers. Meanwhile, cold winters have continued to impact the Northeast segment of the U.S., which has been prone to supply and logistics issues in recent years. The need for hundreds and hundreds of trucks moving to the Northeast could be alleviated by using just one ship to move millions of gallons to the region. “We always find some opposition, but we can’t just assume we’ll never get traction on this issue,” Baker said. “We’re not giving up on a plan to seek an industry exemption that gets propane exactly where it is needed when it is critically needed.” Baker noted that there are some like Senator Lee of Utah who believe the entire Jones Act should be scrapped. “We’d love that, but there is likely a better chance of success in advocating for an exemption where it is needed.”

Carbon Labeling
When energy customers understand each energy source’s carbon footprint based on the full fuel cycle, propane looks pretty good. Currently, all consumer appliances are labeled with a yellow Energy Guide sticker that provides the average annual cost to utilize an appliance. NPGA is advocating before Congress that in addition to the average annual cost, Energy Guide labels should also include the carbon footprint associated with a consumer appliance. While there is no specific legislation on the table right now, many Congressional offices have expressed interest in this issue. “There was some progress here in 2009 when carbon labeling language was included in the Waxman-Markey Bill that passed the House, but the legislation died in the Senate. There is historical precedence for carbon labeling, and consumer appliances such as propane water heaters look very attractive when consumers understand its environmentally-friendly, and cost-effective attributes.”

Opportunities for Progress
While legislative activity has been slow so far in 2019, Baker noted that NPGA has submitted appropriation requests for funding opportunities through the Department of Energy for vehicle engine technology and combined heat and power, and is waiting to see if they are approved. For the industry members, he stresses that building relationships with and educating Congress members as well as staff is essential and can be done in the district as well as at Propane Days. “Often it is more common that we get time with the staff rather than the Congressperson during Propane Days. That is still important because staff have the Congressperson’s ear and help to shape their approach to legislative policy that affects us,” Baker said. “Industry members may have a better opportunity to get their member of Congress to attend an event to meet constituents on-site at their propane operation. This is often a great chance to show our industry in action and demonstrate firsthand new developments such as autogas, efficient appliances, and much more. — Pat Thornton

In preparation for Propane Days 2019, you're invited to learn more about the event as well as how to talk with your legislators about some of the industry's key issues by attending a webinar, May 30, 2019, will provide an overview of all the key issues and last-minute updates. Contact BPN if you would like a copy of Propane In America: The First 100 Years 1912-2012. BPN will ship copies directly to your Washington, DC representatives.