U.S. Senators John Thune (R-South Dakota), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) applauded the House of Representatives’ approval of their legislation today to minimize future propane and heating fuel shortages and regional supply disruptions. A slightly modified version of Thune and Klobuchar’s Reliable Home Heating Act (S. 2086) passed the Commerce Committee on April 9th and was approved in the full Senate by unanimous consent on May 21st. The bill would allow governors greater autonomy when declaring emergencies, without the need for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to declare that a disaster exists beyond the current 30-day declarations available to governors. The legislation would also require the Energy Information Administration to provide early warnings to governors if the inventory of residential heating fuel (propane, natural gas, and home heating oil) falls below the most recent five-year average for more than three consecutive weeks.
“With the extreme cold temperatures and record propane prices that South Dakota and many areas of the country faced this winter, the last thing we should do is make it harder for governors and fuel distributors to address these home heating fuel shortages when they arise,” said Thune. “I applaud the House for its support of our bill and hope the president will act quickly to cut red tape for governors and ensure they have autonomy to take the necessary steps to swiftly address future propane and heating fuel shortages.”
“Propane shortages and sky-high prices put incredible strain on families who struggled to heat their homes in the face of record-cold temperatures this winter,” said Klobuchar. “Today’s action cuts through the red tape to allow governors to quickly address future propane shortages and keep families safe.”
In late January, the FMCSA extended state emergency orders for 36 states providing regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operators transporting home heating fuels into areas experiencing propane and heating fuel shortages this winter. Commercial carriers were exempted from federal Hours-of-Service regulations to allow for greater delivery of home heating fuels. As a result of related bipartisan legislation that the president signed into law, FMCSA extended the emergency orders for certain impacted states until May 31, 2014, unless a governor felt that such a declaration was no longer needed. Due to widespread shortages, residential propane prices nearly doubled to $4 per gallon in February of this year creating hardships for families and businesses alike.
Under current federal law, the governor of a state can declare a state of emergency due to shortages of home heating fuel, which would provide a 30-day exemption from certain federal regulations for operators of commercial motor vehicles. At the conclusion of these 30 days, the exemptions will expire unless extended by FMCSA or otherwise addressed by a presidential disaster declaration. This legislation would give the governor of a state the authority to extend the state of emergency for two additional 30-day periods, for a total of 90 days without FMCSA action.