South Dakotans are no strangers to cold weather. The extreme cold temperatures and rather unpredictable weather patterns this time of year have caused us to prepare for most things that come our way. However, this year the brutally cold weather has left farmers, families, tribes, and businesses feeling the pinch in their pocketbooks from the record high prices of propane due to a major propane supply shortage in the Upper Midwest and other parts of the country.
Numerous factors have contributed to a significant strain on propane supplies and other home heating fuels, which has caused prices to spike. According to the Energy Information Agency, severe cold weather and a late, wet crop season have increased the demand for propane. On top of increased demand, South Dakota and surrounding states have experienced reduced rail deliveries and pipeline maintenance issues, which have resulted in demand outpacing supply.
In order to address the supply issues, I sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on January 24th, requesting the agency issue an emergency declaration for the Western Service Center, which includes South Dakota. The FMCSA declaration would provide relief from existing Hours of Service limits for drivers transporting propane throughout the region, while still requiring drivers be fit to drive and operate safely. On January 28th, FMCSA granted my request for an emergency declaration for South Dakota and North Dakota through February 11th. The additional flexibility will allow propane distributors to travel greater distances to procure additional propane for the South Dakota market. This declaration builds on the truck driver exemption that Governor Daugaard issued earlier this month that applied only within South Dakota.As the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FMCSA, I will continue working to ensure that necessary flexibilities and emergency authorities are utilized to replenish propane supplies. This emergency declaration is a helpful step to not only reduce the shortage of propane and other heating fuels, but to also bring the price down for families and businesses across our state and region. If families have questions about energy assistance, I encourage you to reach out to the state Low Income Energy Assistance Program at 1-866-674-6374.