Jan. 1 brought new fuel marketer leaders to the Empire State Energy Association in the form of a new chairman and president. Tasked with leading this New York energy trade group for the next two years were Joe Alonzo, president of Wever Petroleum, a multi-fuel marketer based in Mechanicville, and Eli Van Etten, vice president of multi-fuel marketer VEO Energy of Monticello.
Founded in 1941, the association works governmental relations and legislative issues with its regulatory counsel, Emilio Petroccione, and Ric Scanlan of Harter Secrest & Emery. These well-respected advocates address issues for ESEA in Albany and throughout the state.
On a national level, ESEA is the recognized affiliated association for New York State for the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. PMAA represents the petroleum dealer’s interests in Washington, D.C., on legislative and regulatory fronts.
I asked Alonzo and Van Etten if they felt that ESEA and other similar energy trade groups in the U.S. had enough horsepower to place our industry on an even footing against those interests that are contrary to our own. Both said that our retail energy industry has historically been on the defensive against legislative and regulatory policies.
“I’m tired of being on the defensive,” said Van Etten, calling for the retail energy sector to take an offensive posture rather than “reacting to what is being thrown at us.” Both Alonzo and Van Etten pointed to legislative initiatives like the “New Green Deal” that seeks to push fossil fuels completely out of the energy equation and said that of the mainstream energy sources that are available here in the U.S., non-utility fuels have continually striven to improve over the past few decades. Both pointed to the reduction in sulfur content for over-the-road diesel that began in 1994, the reduction in sulfur for heating oils in New York and other states, and the movement toward minimum bio-heat and biodiesel blends in New York and other states.
Alonzo and Van Etten agreed that heating oil and propane are part of the solution and must have a seat at the table. Both agree that the energy rhetoric from many politicians is not based upon reality or what infrastructure requirements are needed to even begin to meet the espoused changes to the global energy equation.
Both acknowledged the David versus Goliath dynamic in which the retail energy industry is David; resources put to the fight by Goliath, the utility industry, exceed non-utility energy sources by orders of magnitude, not to mention the public policy bureaucracy that, some say, not only protects but promotes the fuels sold by the utilities.
“The industry needs every hand on deck. Right now,” Alonzo said. Van Etten agreed.
Both Alonzo and Van Etten acknowledged that the interests of heating oil, propane and multi-fuel trade groups have been undermined by a lack of robust participation by all retailers. Participation rates vary by association, but fuel retailer engagement in many of our energy trade groups is nothing short of anemic. This places the burden of advocacy on a minority of retail fuel marketers in a given state or region.
Alonzo referenced the nearly 1,000 bills that ESEA is tracking in New York alone as an example of how resource-intensive ESEA’s advocacy work is today.
“When we are outnumbered ten-to-one by the utilities, we cannot commit a like degree of necessary lobbyists and advocates in state capitals, State Houses, never-ending regulatory meetings and policy events. Being on the offense is rarely achievable,” Van Etten said. “We’ve never had a greater need for all retailers to support what their trade associations are doing.”
As for ESEA, both Alonzo and Van Etten plan on a deliberate effort in 2019 and beyond to secure a greater degree of support from the heating fuel providers and associated companies in New York State.
ESEA counts over 300,000 employees statewide in our industry. In addition to government relations and regulatory advocacy, ESEA conducts training and education programs, and publishes a biweekly newsletter, an annual ESEA magazine, an ESEA membership directory, and more.
“We can’t do this alone,” Van Etten said.
“Amen,” Alonzo added.
Shane Sweet is principal of Shane Sweet LLC, a Vermont-based energy products, services and trade association consultancy. The firm provides contract services to companies and organizations connected with the energy industry, including propane, heating oil and motor fuel sectors. Clients include Van Smith Co., a mid-Atlantic based distributorship and consultancy where he is director, Northeastern U.S. Sweet can be reached at email@example.com.
PICTURED: Shane Sweet