By Don Davis
The Obama administration Wednesday extended an order giving truckers more time on the road to deliver propane to areas like the Upper Midwest where it is in short supply.
Minnesota also is asking farmers with extra propane to share it with those who heat homes with it and cannot obtain any.
Thousands of Minnesotans have called a propane hotline asking how to get financial assistance and other questions about a propane shortage that has driven up prices, with some reports of propane costs five times the normal rate. While experts say there is plenty of propane in the country, it is stored in places like Texas, not in areas that are experiencing bitterly cold weather that increases the need for heating fuel.
The Wednesday federal order allows truckers hauling propane to stay on the road longer.
Also Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry extended another order that allows more propane trucking out of his state.
Anne O’Connor of the Minnesota Commerce Department said, that since truckers must drive through several states to get propane, the federal order includes more than just the states most affected by the propane crisis. “Every step along the way to remove a barrier helps build reserve and alleviate pressure on the market, which hopefully will bring cost down.”
Minnesota officials were happy with the federal and Perry decisions.
“Minnesotans across our state are living in fear that they will run out of the fuels they need to keep their families safe and warm,” said Gov. Mark Dayton said.
Propane heats about 250,000 Minnesota homes, mostly in rural areas. Farmers, businesses and others also use propane.
“It’s good to hear that action is finally being taken to help with the propane situation,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said. “I continue to hear from folks in my district who are concerned about keeping their homes, businesses and livestock barns warm during this time of high prices, and I look forward to hearing about additional actions that can be taken to help in these circumstances.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., talked to the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Tuesday and a day later the agency extended the trucker declaration that already was in place.
“While this is an important step to help alleviate the problem in the short term, more needs to be done,” Walz said.
Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and the Minnesota Propane Association issued a plea to farmers who have propane left over from the fall harvest to share their surplus with those who need to fuel to heat their homes. Farmers use propane to dry grain in the fall.
The Agriculture Department reports that some pumping of propane from farm tanks already has begun.
A state propane hotline has received 2,373 in the week it has been open, including 370 calls Wednesday.
The hotline, at (651) 297-1304 and (800) 657-3504, handles Minnesotans’ questions and concerns about the propane situation. People may call to obtain information about how to get financial assistance if they cannot afford propane.