Advocacy, Networking, and Much More in D.C.

(July 11, 2019) — For a group of industry delegates from New England, Propane Days 2019 opened with a full day of visits to legislators’ offices and closed with a member of Congress coming to visit them.
Propane Days DC 2019 photo
Propane Days 2019 in Washington, D.C. drew propane LPG industry members to meet with legislators and staff. Nearly 250 attendees participated in lobbying Washington.Propane Days, the National Propane Gas Association’s (NPGA) annual event in Washington, D.C., draws members to meet with legislators and their staffs. This year, nearly 250 registered attendees participated.

Among them were eight members of the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE) who formed a delegation representing Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. During the first day of the event, the group visited the offices of four senators and three representatives. Six other PGANE members formed a delegation representing Connecticut and visited the offices of the two senators and five representatives from that state.

With this year’s scheduling changes, the first day of Propane Days began with the Welcome Breakfast and NPGA Legislative Issues Briefing presented by the association’s new chairman and members of its public and government affairs staff.
Propane Days 2019 in Washington, D.C. hosted more than 250 propane industry members to USA capitol to meet with Congress
Randy Thompson, founder and senior advisor at ThompsonGas LLC, had become chairman of NPGA the previous day. He opened the morning’s presentation and told the delegates, “Your being here is one of the best ways we can influence policy. The legislators see that you have spent your own money to come here to advocate for your issues.”

After Thompson spoke about the “why” of Propane Days, members of NPGA’s public and government affairs staff presented the “how.” They explained the four things that make a good meeting in a legislator’s office: tell them who you are, introduce the issue, describe the impact of the issue, and make the ask. They then roleplayed a couple of meetings, showing things to do and not do when talking with legislators and their staff.

After the breakfast, the PGANE northern region delegation made its way to Capitol Hill for a busy day of meetings, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending with the last one at 4:30 p.m.

“Coming out as a single industry to Capitol Hill does send a message,” Denis Gagne, senior vice president of supply and acquisitions at Eastern Propane & Oil (Rochester, N.H.), told BPN. “We have been doing it for 14 years, so we are known.”

Gagne, who accompanied this PGANE delegation on several of its meetings, had assumed the role of chairman-elect of NPGA the previous day. “The whole idea is to educate the Hill about our industry and the challenges that we have,” he said. “Especially in this day and age, consumers have been educated with a lot of wrong information. We have to speak to educate people who make regulations and make laws.”

Jones Act, Joint Meeting
NPGA asked delegates to focus on five issues this year. They suggested that delegates choose two issues to discuss during each meeting and then give the legislator a packet that includes information about all five issues. To help delegates, it also supplied one-page issue briefs covering each of the issues.

The delegates from New England took these issues and information to the offices of their legislators and, crucially, told the staffers about their own experiences and how these issues affect their businesses and their customers.

“I try to bring specific examples that I’ve heard from my members, as we discuss the issues of Propane Days or other legislative items,” said Leslie Anderson, president and CEO of PGANE. “I keep those in the back of my mind so we can bring them forward and discuss them at appropriate times during the conversation. I think those specific examples really stay with the staff when you’re telling a story and you can make it personal and talk about a real-life experience you’ve had.”

One issue chosen for this year’s Propane Days was the Jones Act; the ask was that Congress enact a waiver from the Jones Act for propane shipments. The delegates from New England had a special interest in this issue.

“This causes propane to cost more for their constituents,” Anderson said. “They’re all familiar with LIHEAP [Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program] in the Northeast, so we bring that in and we say, ‘When it’s really cold, people run out of LIHEAP money, and one of the reasons is because we’re paying a premium to bring gas from halfway around the planet instead of domestically bringing it up from our own shores and buying American propane.”
Propane Days DC photo 2019 butane propane news the propane industry's leading source for news and information since 1939
Peter Iacobucci, general manager of Superior Plus Propane (Whitinsville, Mass.) and chairman of PGANE, also said the Jones Act is a key issue. A repeal or waiver to it could help New England companies and consumers get an affordable, adequate, and reliable supply of propane during pivotal times in the winter season, he added.

“I started in this industry in 1986 and almost immediately saw the challenges associated with the Jones Act my first winter season,” Iacobucci explained. “The distribution of wholesale propane in New England is limited to three basic avenues: pipeline (not actually in New England), rail, and shipping terminals. Weather conditions play a key role on supply and demand; when there is a pipeline disruption or an issue with rail, the distribution infrastructure can get taxed, leaving New England companies to rely solely on the shipping terminals for supply. As inventories drive downward, qualified ships needed to transport American-produced propane to U.S. ports are nonexistent and suppliers have to rely on foreign shippers bringing foreign product into the U.S. from foreign ports. The U.S. exports propane to other countries while here in New England we have to bring foreign product in from overseas. That doesn’t really make sense, does it?”

At one of the Propane Days meetings, the PGANE delegation teamed up with members of the Rocky Mountain Propane Gas Association (RMPGA) to visit the office of Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. The senator has introduced a bill that would exempt propane shipments from the Jones Act.

“It resonated with the senator’s staff when the members from Utah talked about how their prices go up because they have to buy propane from further away when we have bought the propane that’s local to them because we can’t buy the propane that’s close to us,” Anderson said. “It’s crazy to be driving up the prices for our energy consumers when if we could just have a waiver, we could bring propane right up the coast to New England from American-produced sources rather than from Russia, Algeria, or Northern Europe.”

Other Issues and Asks
Another issue targeted on Propane Days was alternative fuel tax credits. Here, the ask was that Congress extend the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit and the Alternative Fuel Refueling Infrastructure Tax Credit for five years.

A third issue was alternative fuel corridors. The ask was that the legislator ensure that propane is eligible for grant funding opportunities for the installation of alternative fueling infrastructure under any transportation or infrastructure bill, including S. 674, the Clean Corridors Act of 2019.

“It is important to expand that infrastructure so we have more options to fuel our cars with propane,” said David Richard of D.F. Richard Energy (Dover, N.H.).

A fourth issue was the Drive-Safe Act and the ask was that the legislator support and cosponsor this bill.

“That was one of our criticals today, bringing the 18 to 21 age group into the workforce,” said Judy Taranovich, president and owner of Proctor Gas (Proctor, Vt.). “We lose them. When they turn 18 and graduate from high school, they’re not going to wait until 21 to find a job and come to work at a propane company; they’re going to apprentice as a carpenter, a plumber, or an electrician. We want the ones that want to get out of school and get right to work, so having a place for them to get started would be wonderful. I think that’s one thing that a lot of the congressmen and senators, across the party lines, can see as a good thing.”

The fifth issue selected by NPGA was carbon labeling. Here, the ask was that Congress enact language to require carbon footprint information be included on EnergyGuide labels that are placed on consumer appliances.

“One of the things that I loved that was in the NPGA packet this year was the yellow sheet that showed the EnergyGuide tags and visually showed what we want them to add to this tag,” said Anderson. “The staffers immediately understood what it was and the picture made it much easier to discuss. I think they will remember that issue.”

In addition to covering these issues, the delegates asked the legislators to consider joining the Propane Caucus.

They also invited each legislator to contact PGANE to arrange a site visit to a propane marketer in their district. “A lot of members of our association are realizing that site visits get results because you probably get a far more attentive legislative person, whether it be a congressman or a senator, and they get a better understanding of not only the product itself, but of the people and what we do,” Gagne told BPN.

The Meetings
Each meeting at a legislator’s office started with brief introductions. Industry delegates shared with legislative staffers their connections to the district—where they live, where they went to school, restaurants they frequent, etc., as well as how many people they employ and how many customers they have in the district.
They then discussed the two issues that had been selected for that meeting. Anderson tailored her message to each visit, based on the legislator’s committee assignments, things she saw in the office, the areas of expertise of the staff who showed up for the meeting, and anything else that hinted at the interests of the staffers and the legislator.

“That way, you make it personal and get to something that’s an issue they can really get behind,” she told BPN. “I saw a staff person looking at our clean air flyer, so we stopped and brought that into the conversation. The response was very positive: ‘Oh, I didn’t know that about propane.’ Now we’ve got them thinking about it as a green, alternative energy.”

As each meeting ended, Anderson left behind materials with additional information, including the packet from NPGA with the five issue briefs in addition to two one-pagers produced by PGANE; one focused on security and the other on renewables and cleaner air. Those issues have resonated with legislators in past meetings, she explained. During the joint meeting at the office of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, RMPGA executive director Tom Clark also gave the staffer a copy of BPN’s book, “Propane In America: The First 100 Years.”

In all the visits, Anderson also left her business card and invited the legislator’s staff to reach out to her anytime they get a propane-related call or complaint from a constituent.

“My members have been phenomenal in getting those problems solved,” Anderson told BPN. “That creates goodwill between our industry and the legislative office. Those offices do feel, I think, thankful to us for solving that problem for them and they return the favor.”

Anderson also invited legislators and staffers to a reception organized by NPGA being held that evening.

The Reception
This year’s Propane Days was the fifth Taranovich had attended. She commented the event gives members of the propane industry an opportunity to get their story out at a time when they are being greatly outspent in advertising and marketing by electric companies.

“Each year, our group seems to get a little bit bigger and more engaging with both staff and the senators and congressmen because of the recognition—‘I met you last year,’” she said. “It is advantageous for us to come back and say, ‘Here we are again. We’re still working and still providing jobs. We’re a good industry, a clean industry, and we have a story to tell you.’ Little by little, we’re making inroads.”

For Richard of D.F. Richard Energy, this was his first visit to Propane Days. “I found it a very dynamic experience,” he said. “It was a great way to enlighten our elected leaders on the issues for our industry.”

Iacobucci, too, was making his first visit to Propane Days. “It was exciting to see the industry come together as one,” he said. “I was fortunate that the company that I work for (Superior Plus Propane) allowed me to take the time to represent our company and our industry with the group from New England (PGANE). As chairman of PGANE this year, it was a great opportunity to help spread our message to the senators and congressional representatives of this great country.

“I will definitely participate in the event next year,” he added, “because I truly believe that solid representation sends a clear message to our leaders in Washington. Our industry is strong and our voices need to be heard.”

Anderson noted that during Propane Days, she also points out landmarks and other things of interest on Capitol Hill. “It really is very fun,” she said. “You get to see kind of a look behind the curtain here. We stopped in the tunnels under the Senate buildings to show our first-time attendees the old Senate train that ran between the Senate and Capitol. We also stopped in the rotunda at the Russell Building where all the television interviews take place. Next year we are trying to coordinate a group visit to the White House. I feel like I’m half tour guide on some of these events!”

The meetings completed, the PGANE group walked to the Congressional Reception organized by NPGA and gathered under a sign that said “New England.” During the reception, Rep. Chris Pappas (N.H.) arrived, made his way to that part of the room, and spoke with the delegates. Accompanying the freshman representative was the staffer the PGANE delegates had met with earlier in the day.

“It was a very good day,” Anderson told BPN at the close of the reception. “We met with this congressman and the staff of another brand-new congressman and got to educate them about our industry. We spent some time talking about the industry in general so they know what propane is and who uses propane in their districts.” — Steve Relyea