Some local governments have banned the installation of gas in new buildings, prompting several states to respond by prohibiting local governments from enacting such bans. At the time this was written, eight states have “ban the bans” laws in place.
Representatives of propane associations in states that have enacted “ban the bans” laws did so by arguing that people in these states tend to oppose regulation and value freedom of choice. While working to get the laws passed, they reinforced these traditions while also cooperating with other organizations to promote propane as a reliable source of clean energy.
Arizona was the first state to enact such a law. The state’s governor signed House Bill 2686 into law on Feb. 21, 2020.
The bill moved through the state legislature quickly because it was sponsored by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House, said Barry Aarons, executive director of the Arizona Propane Gas Association.
The bill was supported by a coalition of the natural gas industry, various chambers of commerce and the propane industry. Those promoting the bill found that the two most effective arguments were that consumers should have their choice of energy solutions and that propane is a clean and efficient form of energy. There was little opposition.
“Usually cities will oppose being preempted, but in this case, even the League of Cities did not oppose the bills because the leaders of the house and senate were sponsors,” Aarons said.
In Utah, the governor signed a “ban the bans” bill into law on Feb. 25. House Bill 17 was originally introduced by the natural gas industry with no mention of propane.
Tom Clark, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Propane Association, contacted a legislator who sponsored the bill. That legislator said he knew about propane because of a talk radio show called “The State of Energy.”
Clark noted that he is one of the hosts. When the legislator said he was more than willing to add propane to the bill, Clark said, “That gave me a real incentive to continue the radio show.”
There was little opposition to the bill. “Once we were on the bill, it wasn’t that big a deal,” Clark said. “In this area, people really want to reduce oversight and regulation. This reinforces the values the residents of Utah always have when it comes to regulation.”
In Arkansas, the governor signed Senate Bill 137 into law on March 10. Here, too, the challenge was getting propane included in a bill that had already been introduced by the natural gas industry. The authors of the bill didn’t want to amend it, said Laneigh Pfalser, a government relations and political consultant for the Arkansas Propane Gas Association.
They changed their minds, though, when propane industry supporters filed a bill of their own that would override the natural gas industry’s bill.
The original bill was then amended to include propane. There was no opposition to the bill, but the governor of Arkansas did ask if such a bill was needed, since no one in the state was trying to ban gas hookups. Supporters of the bill pointed to what has happened in other states.
Among these supporters was State Senator Charles Beckham, who owns a propane bottling service and had previously lived in California. “I saw home and business owners left and right who were denied building permits that utilized traditional energy sources during my time in California. I never want that to happen to Arkansans,” Beckham said.
In Mississippi, House Bill 632 was signed by the governor on March 17. Few people had spoken out against the bill and both chambers of the legislature had passed it with no opposition. In addition to the Mississippi Propane Gas Association, HB 632 was supported by the Mississippi Petroleum Council, the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Southern States Energy Board.
When the bill was originally introduced, Philip A. Chamblee, executive director and CEO of the Mississippi Propane Gas Association, was contacted by representatives of the natural gas industry who asked for his support.
The original language of the bill applied to utilities, so he and the association got that changed because propane is not a utility. Chamblee was ready with talking points about the bill, but they weren’t needed. “I just had to clarify what the bill would do,” he said. “One legislator told me, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”
In Kentucky, House Bill 207 was signed by the state’s governor on March 27. A “ban the bans” bill had been on track to pass in 2020, but the pandemic shortened the state legislature’s session. As with other states that have passed such bills, the original language had not included “propane” in it.
“Propane was not in the original bill, but a Senate Committee Substitute expanded the scope of the bill to include propane and keep it from being a regulated utility,” said Steve McClain, director of communications and public affairs for the Kentucky Propane Gas Association. “That was a big factor for us — making sure it did not become a regulated utility.”
With that change made, the bill was able to move forward with little opposition.
“Once we demonstrated the importance of including propane in the bill, lawmakers were supportive,” McClain said. “The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and had support of over two-thirds of the House.”
4 Lessons in Effective Bill Passage
Based on their experiences, these representatives of state propane associations shared some insights into what helped them move these bills through the legislature and eventually signed into law.
1. Act Swiftly
They acted fast to get propane included in “ban the bans” bills. Clark notes that the natural gas industry didn’t include propane in the bill it proposed in Utah. “As soon as you hear of a bill, you’ve got to get on it right away,” he said. “If you’re slow, it’s an uphill battle to get on.” Clark adds that propane marketers can help by letting their associations know when they see a gas ban proposed.
The National Propane Gas Association and the state associations track new bills that are introduced, but it’s good to have others watching this too.
“There are so many entities out there on the local level,” he said. In Arkansas, as in Utah, propane proponents had to work to get propane added to a bill that had already been introduced. “We didn’t start this bill, so we had to come from behind,” Pfalser said.
She adds that, ideally, the propane industry will introduce this or any other legislation it supports. “Get your legislation out there first,” she said. “Call a meeting with other industries and say, ‘Here’s the legislation we are promoting.’ Make sure everyone is included so you’re the peacemaker in the room. Do the legwork first so you’re in charge.”
2. Cooperation Is Key
The association representatives cooperated with other organizations that supported the bills. Chamblee notes that while the propane and natural gas industries don’t agree on everything, they did work well together on the bill in Mississippi.
“We had a common goal,” he said. “In legislation and in life, sitting down and talking things over makes us better people.”
The Kentucky association, too, worked with other stakeholders including natural gas companies, energy groups and the Kentucky Restaurant Association. “It was important to build a broad coalition of support and find areas we could find common ground [on],” McClain said.
Clark says the propane and natural gas industries in Utah worked together to get the bill passed in their state, despite recent clashes over subsidized natural gas expansion. “Propane is not the only one affected by ‘electrify everything,’” he said. “Natural gas is, too, and they sell a lot more gas than propane does. So, any opportunity out there to jump on a natural gas proposal is good for propane.”
In Arizona, too, several energy providers worked in coalition to support the bill. “Get everyone on the same page,” Aarons said. “If all the energy providers who are not electric are involved, there’s a better chance of winning.”
3. Promote Freedom of Choice
They promoted the importance of the consumer’s freedom of choice. “The best argument is that consumers should have access to all energy,” Pfalser said based on her experience in Arkansas. Supporters found this argument to be effective in Arizona, too.
“Freedom of choice was a very strong argument in Arizona,” Aarons said. “The government shouldn’t tell people which energy they can use in their home; whoever is building the home should decide what to offer their customers.”
Though there was no opposition to the bill in Mississippi, Chamblee had talking points ready. Some of these points included: the fact that “ban the bans” bill protects customers’ access to all fuels; it allows for increased competition; and it keeps energy affordable for use in homes and businesses.
4. Know the Value
They highlighted the value of propane. “We stressed the importance of propane to Kentucky’s economy and households,” McClain said. “Many businesses use propane, and Kentucky’s livestock industry (poultry and hogs) relies on propane. Propane is also the primary heating source for over 100,000 homes in Kentucky, especially in rural areas of the state.”
Ultimately, advocates of these bills were able to effectively explain to legislators that propane is clean, efficient, reliable and already used by many of the legislators’ constituents in order to make a strong case to “ban the bans.”