This winter, dramatically reduced propane supplies produced a sharp spike in prices for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Midwest who rely on propane as their main source of heat

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Thune (R-SD) announced today that their bipartisan legislation to better prepare for propane and heating fuel shortages and regional supply disruptions passed the Senate Commerce Committee, paving the way for a vote in the full Senate. The Reliable Home Heating Act, which Klobuchar introduced with Senator John Thune (R-SD) 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 currently 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, dramatically reduced propane supplies produced a sharp spike in prices for hundreds of thousands of households throughout the Midwest that rely on propane as their main source of heat, as well as for livestock producers who need it to keep their livestock and poultry barns warm.

“The combination of reduced propane supplies and skyrocketing prices put an enormous strain on families in Minnesota and across the Midwest this winter,” Klobuchar said. “This legislation will give governors new tools and greater flexibility to address future propane shortages so Minnesotans aren’t left out in the cold.”

“With the extreme cold temperatures throughout South Dakota and many areas of the country, the last thing we should be doing is making it harder for governors and fuel distributors to address propane and other home heating fuel shortages,” said Thune. “Eliminating the red tape for governors helps ensure that when propane and other heating fuel shortages arise in the future, governors have the autonomy to take the necessary steps to swiftly address the shortage. I applaud the committee for their swift action on the bill and will continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to prepare for and prevent future shortages.”

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.