Many people think lobbying in Washington, D.C., is unamerican and only protects special interests of big corporations. My experiences tell me just the opposite. Sure, big business wants to protect their interests, but many smaller family-owned businesses need to protect their families, their employees, and their industry.
This point was driven home for me at my second visit with lawmakers in what Charles Dickens called the City of Magnificent Intentions. My recent visit was organized by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) in what it termed “Propane Days.” It was a great event with over 400 participants from almost every state. I visited lawmakers with five other Connecticut residents to meet with our Congress people (mostly their senior staff). We were well prepared to talk about our issues, although I think we were all a little nervous if we were knowledgeable enough. As it turned out, between all of us we covered the issues very well.
Our four issues had official names, but I had my own names for them:
Another Stupid Act
Common Sense Act
Do Over Act
The first Stupid Act has to do with the OSHA Crane Rule. Basically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants to apply new training and certification requirements to 700-foot cranes for building skyscrapers and cranes on the back of a Ford F-450. The training and certification requirements would cost marketers an estimated $151 million over the next five years. We asked for an exemption. Everyone we spoke with thought the exemption was warranted.
The other Stupid Act is officially called The Jones Act. It had good intentions to protect our merchant ships a hundred years ago. It basically says that when you ship from one U.S. port to another, it must be on a U.S. flagged ship. Now that we are a net exporter of propane we can move propane up the coast from one port to another on U.S. flagged propane tankers. Unfortunately, there are none and there are no plans to build any. We have to import propane because we can’t ship to ourselves. This past winter there was a foreign-flagged tanker in Puerto Rico looking for a home. New England needed the fuel but was not allowed to take the shipment. As a result, companies traveled to other Northeast states to get fuel, causing increases in the spot market for many homeowners. We asked to get an exemption for propane, but we were told it would be a tough fight as others want to keep the act in place for every industry. Note: This will also reduce our trade deficit.
The Common-Sense act, known as the Drive Safe Act, is designed to provide a higher level of training for drivers under the age of 21 and allow them to obtain CDL certification. Our industry needs drivers, and, in my opinion, additional training will benefit the industry for many years.
The Do Over Act extends the Alternate Fuel Tax Credits for the future instead of going back every year and giving retroactive credits. The propane industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure for propane autogas. It is a green fuel with 12% lower CO2, 20% lower NOx, 60% less CO and 80% less particulate matter than diesel. Everyone agrees that using a domestically produced fuel that is environmentally friendly is good for the country. It seems like every year it expires, and they must Do It Over again with retroactive credits. Just give us a reasonable time to build the system and the payoff will be for many years to come. Note: This will also reduce our trade deficit.
I always remember a scene from the movie “The American President” where Martin Sheen (Chief of Staff) tells Michael Douglas (President) “You fight the fights you can win? You fight the fights that need fighting!”
We may not win every fight for the industry, but we need to keep fighting the fights that need fighting.