Vermont's Congressmen Trying to Lower Propane Prices

By Steph Machado

Published 02/20 2014 06:58PM

Updated 02/20 2014 07:37PM

BURLINGTON - Winter is more than halfway through, but it's far from over--and propane prices are soaring as colder than normal temperatures increase demand for fuels like propane.

Vermont's congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker requesting she limit how much propane the U.S. is sending to other countries.

We sat down with Senator Sanders after he spoke with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce Thursday.

"We have been receiving calls from Vermonters who are having a difficult time paying their fuel bills," Sanders said.  "This is a very serious problem where people in Vermont are having to make the choice whether they stay warm in the winter or whether they buy food and medicine that they need."

It's not that the U.S. isn't making enough fuel. Matt Cota with the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association says propane production is at an all-time high. He says the U.S. produced 18 billion gallons of propane last year, and consumed 14 billion of those gallons. We exported 4 billion gallons, which leaves no surplus; although Cota says we do import some propane.

"If some of those exports could be curtailed during times of peak demand that would ensure that we have ample supply and it would alleviate some of the upward pressure we've had on prices," Cota said.

There are other issues at hand, such as storage and transportation that are also contributing to higher prices.

"We need larger storage facilities," Cota said. "Primary storage so that when we're able to accumulate supplies, then we have a place to put it."

Senator Sanders said he agrees those problems need fixing, but he's focusing on the first, immediate step.

"There are a lot of elements here. But what many people believe is if we temporarily limit exports, keep more of the product in the United States, it will drive prices down. And that's what I want to see."

Senator Sanders says the Secretary of Commerce has acknowledged the letter, but we don't yet know if the request will be honored.

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