Political Notebook: Propane Crisis Brings Farm Leader’s Questions

By Don Davis

Rural Midwesterners want answers to a long list of questions about the current propane crisis.

Mainly, their question is: Why?

President Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union said his group is calling for increased state and federal government action to deal with the situation. That situation is a shortage of propane that 250,000 Minnesota homeowners use for heat. Farmers, businesses and others also use the fuel, mostly in rural parts of the region.

“Many farmers and rural residents save all summer to buy their propane in the winter months,” Peterson said. “That certainty and ability to pay their heating bills is now gone, and people are being forced to pay outrageous prices for what is an essential element of existence in wintertime Minnesota.”

Peterson wondered whether price gouging is involved.

“Why have costs skyrocketed from $1.50 to $5 per gallon?” he wondered. “How many of our urban and suburban cousins could afford paying three times what it usually costs to heat their homes or businesses?”

If solutions are to be found, they likely will be on the federal government level since propane transportation problems seem to be the big issue and individual states can do relatively little on that issue. Some in Minnesota’s congressional delegation have called for hearings on the subject.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and other Midwestern governors have taken some measures, but they cannot reach across state lines to change rules and convince railroads, pipeline owners and others to transport more propane. They also cannot answer one of Peterson’s questions: whether an upward trend in exporting propane to other countries is hurting Americans.

Peterson also wants to know why a pipeline carrying 40 percent of Minnesota’s propane was out of service for a couple of months. The pipeline is to end propane service permanently in April.

Railroad safety studied

Minnesota officials are just beginning to look into how to make sure railroads hauling western North Dakota crude oil are doing it safely when they pass through the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton met with three commissioners and other key personnel to discuss what legislation may be needed in the session that begins Feb. 25. One possibility is to increase the number of rail inspectors from the one position now in place.

Dayton’s spokesman said the governor plans to talk to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple about rail safety in light of the Dec. 30 derailment of a BNSF Railway train in his state.

Counties: Fund transportation

Financially strapped Minnesota counties know a good cause, for them at least, when they see one.

More than 70 counties have signed on to an effort to persuade the Legislature to increase transportation funding this year.

Move MN, a statewide pro-transportation coalition, has announced that it is working for more transportation money, but its leaders refuse to say where they suggest lawmakers get the funding.

The state increased the motor fuel tax in 2008, the last time significantly new money flowed into highways and other transportation needs.

“Simply put, transportation is about opportunity and access – connecting families to schools and health care, connecting consumers to businesses and connecting our region’s farms to the global marketplace,” Commissioner John Schueller of Redwood County said. “Lack of investment in our local infrastructure stifles economic growth in Redwood Falls and lessens our ability to meaningfully contribute to Minnesota’s economy. It is crucial the state provide us with the lifeline we need to succeed.”

Pro-sportsman act passes House

The U.S. House has passed a bill to protect hunting and fishing.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., co-sponsored the legislation that would, among other things, remove federal control over whether bullets and fishing tackle are considered toxic, encourage maintaining shooting ranges, allow people at Army Corps of Engineers-maintained areas to carry guns and open more federal land to hunting and fishing.

Walz said the bill “is based upon one fact: Sportsmen and -women are some of our nation’s most effective conservationists. This legislation will work to promote this simple fact by increasing access to the outdoors and funding common sense conservation practices.”

It’s DFL vs. McFadden

There is no doubt which U.S. Senate candidate Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders most fear.

For weeks, the DFL has hammered away at Mike McFadden for skipping debates with fellow Republican Senate candidates. After Tuesday’s precinct caucuses, in which McFadden finished 8 points behind frontrunner Julianne Ortman, the party issued a statement: “Investment banker Mike McFadden proved once again that skipping debates and refusing to address the issues comes with a hefty price tag. Last night, McFadden lost his third straight Republican straw poll. …”

McFadden is the richest of the GOP candidates and is expected to pump his own money into seeking votes in an Aug. 12 primary election and, if he wins that, in an effort to unseat first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Leslie Davis a poet

Political observers give Leslie Davis little, if any, chance of winning the governor’s race he has entered, but the frequent candidate does offer some colorful comments:

“Tax his land and tax his wage

“Tax the bed in which he lays

“Tax him ’til he’s good and sore

“If he hollers tax him more

“And write these words upon his tomb

“Taxes drove me to my doom.”