Senators ask White House for propane shortage relief

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 07, 2014 6:42 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal government must continue to offer assistance to consumers facing spikes in propane prices due to bitterly cold winter weather and supply shortages, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. senators said on Friday.

More than two dozen senators urged President Barack Obama to direct agencies to use their authority to ease the impact of domestic shortages and to review all options to help facilitate propane deliveries to affected areas.

Plunging temperatures have recently forced fuel rationing in upper Midwestern states and led to record high propane prices of $5 a gallon at the Conway, Kansas, storage hub, up from $1.75 before the fuel crunch.

Prices have dipped back below $2 in recent days, as supply conditions improved.

Propane stocks are still down 25.8 million barrels, or 44.9 percent, from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration.

"Until propane stocks recover, the government should continue to provide and/or expand short-term regulatory relief," the lawmakers said in a letter to Obama.

Republican Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota, and John Boozman of Arkansas, along with Democrats Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Al Franken of Minnesota, headed up the drive for more federal help.

The lawmakers did not identify what specific regulatory actions the administration should undertake, but they asked the White House to work with the Agriculture Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Small Business Administration and other agencies to address the crisis.

Hoeven said that Health and Human Services has already agreed to provide $3.4 million in additional funding to help low-income families pay for heating in North Dakota. The Department of Transportation also issued a declaration allowing drivers transporting propane to work additional hours, to speed up deliveries.

On Thursday, a bipartisan coalition from the House of Representatives asked leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to call a hearing on the propane shortage.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Ros Krasny; Editing by Andre Grenon and Lisa Shumaker)