U.S. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the Reliable Home Heating Act (S. 2086) today to better prepare for propane and heating fuel shortages and regional supply disruptions. This legislation would allow governors greater autonomy when they declare emergencies, without the need for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to declare that a disaster exists beyond the existing 30-day declarations that are available to governors. The legislation would also require the Energy Information Administration (EIA) 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.
“This winter’s extreme cold temperature, regional supply disruptions, and a wet corn harvest have led to propane and heating fuel shortages and record high prices this winter across the U.S.,” said Thune. “I am hopeful that this legislation will eliminate red tape for governors to better meet the needs of their residents and businesses during what can be very dangerous conditions.”
“Reduced supplies of propane and skyrocketing prices have put a huge strain on families who are struggling to heat their homes this winter,” said Klobuchar. “This common sense legislation will help deliver critical relief to families in the short term and give governors new tools and greater flexibility to address similar shortages in the future.”
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. FMCSA extended the emergency orders for certain impacted states through March 15, 2014.
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 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.
The bill also includes the House-passed Home Heating Emergency Assistance through Transportation (HHEATT) Act (H.R. 4076) which would extend the FMCSA’s current emergency declarations until May 31, 2014, unless a governor felt that such a declaration was no longer needed.The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has jurisdiction of FMCSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.