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Congressional Delegation Seeks Emergency Action On Propane Prices

The three members of the Vermont's delegation, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch, say the country is facing a crisis with the growing cost of propane.

The price of the fuel this winter is 60 percent higher than a year ago, and in the last three months, the price has jumped by more than 30 percent.  A gallon of propane now costs roughly $4.13.

"We are looking at a very dramatic and drastic situation" - Sen. Bernie Sanders on the rising cost of propane this winter

Senator Sanders says there’s no doubt that an unusually cold winter in many parts of the country has increased the demand for propane.

But he says the real problem is that more and more domestic propane is now being sold to overseas markets because prices are higher.

“What we are seeing is since 2012 there has been a doubling in exports so almost all of the new production is going abroad,” said Sanders. “The result is that there’s not enough propane left in this country and prices are skyrocketing in Vermont, in the Midwest and elsewhere.”

Sanders notes that 15 percent of all Vermont households use propane as their primary fuel source – the second highest rate in the country. And he says many families in this group rely on the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help pay their fuel bills.

“People who are hurting the most, people who are really struggling to keep their heads above water economically, are really seeing a huge increase in prices and we’ve got to do something about it,” said Sanders.

The delegation is asking Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to temporarily halt the export of all propane. Sanders says this action will increase domestic supplies and lower prices.

“We are looking at a very dramatic and drastic situation,” said Sanders. “Clearly the law allows the secretary to put temporary restrictions on exports so we want her to do that.”

Matt Cota is the director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. He says his organization supports the temporary export ban.

“We certainly would like to see some of those gallons being kept here in the United States rather than shipped overseas,” Cota said.

But he says the solution is not as simple as it seems.

“It’s a complicated political issue involving multi national companies in different countries and trade issues,” said Cota. “It’s difficult to wade into those waters.”

Vermont’s congressional delegation is hoping that the temporary ban on propane exports will be put into place by the end of the month.